Four cruise passengers prevented from crossing the Panama Canal die of coronavirus

PANAMA CITY, Mar 27 (Reuters) – Four people died on board Holland America’s Zaandam cruise ship, the Anglo-American firm that owns the ship prevented from crossing the Panama Canal by health authorities in the Central American country said on Friday, after two passengers will test positive for coronavirus.

The ship, which is heading to Fort Lauderdale, on the east coast of the United States, arrived Thursday night in Panamanian waters with 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members on board, two of whom have coronaviruses, an outbreak that has left more than 24,000 dead all over the world.

“Holland America Line can confirm that four older passengers died in Zaandam,” it said in a statement, without specifying whether the deaths were related to COVID-19.

The company said it would transfer cruise ship guests who have not been ill to another ship, the Rotterdam, and that priority will be given to those over 70.

Holland America said the first flu-like symptoms appeared on the ship on March 22 and that since then, 53 passengers and 85 crew members have reported “flu-like” symptoms.

On Friday, Panamanian health authorities denied the transit of the cruise through the Panama Canal, citing sanitary reasons.

“The Ministry of Health has not given permission for that ship to transit, and even if the tests were carried out on board and came out positive, the ship would have to be quarantined,” said the administrator of the Panama Canal, Ricaurte Vásquez.

The Zaandam left Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 7 and was originally due to end its tour in San Antonio, Chile on March 21.

“Due to global health concerns, Holland America Line made the decision to suspend its cruise operations for 30 days and terminate ongoing ones as quickly as possible so that guests can return home,” the company said.

Holland America added that neither its crew nor its passengers have been out of the ship since March 14, when they were in Punta Arenas, Chile.

(Report by Elida Moreno; Written by Diego Oré. Edited by Ana Isabel Martínez)