Passengers recount 'disappointment' aboard cruise ship hit by virus
Alison Auld, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 11, 2016 6:45AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 11, 2016 1:53PM EDT
HALIFAX -- Dozens of passengers wandered off a British cruise ship in Halifax on Wednesday, weary from a virulent gastrointestinal illness that sickened hundreds of people on board and kept some in their cabins for days.
The group of mostly elderly British passengers disembarked the Balmoral at a waterfront port facility, as staff wiped down handrails and screens with sanitizer to try to prevent the spread of the suspected norovirus.
Jean Butcher from Harrow, England, said she was asked by crew to remain in her cabin after getting ill twice. She said it wasn't clear it if was norovirus or something she ate, but had to stay in her cabin for three days.
"Being confined is not nice, but it's best to keep away and make sure nobody else gets sick," she said after meeting her sister at the port reception area that had containers of sanitizing wipes and cleaners on hand.
Her travelling companion, Marj Robinson, said she also had stomach upset, but did not experience vomiting or diarrhea -- the typical symptoms of the highly contagious virus.
She said the outbreak, which started soon after they boarded in England on April 16, cast a slight pall on the cruise that went from Southampton to the Caribbean, along the eastern seaboard and onto New Brunswick.
"It's been a very quiet cruise, there's nobody much about at night," she said. "I think the whole atmosphere has not been cruise like. I think it's put a little bit of a shadow over what should be a nice experience."
Molly Kehoe, a spokeswoman with Health Canada, said there was only one passenger who remained under medical supervision as of Wednesday. She said people who are ill are not allowed to disembark without being cleared by the medical staff on board.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in the United States said Monday that 277 of 915 passengers on the Balmoral had reported being ill. It said nine of the 520 crew members had indicated they had a gastrointestinal illness.
Rachael Jackson, a spokeswoman with the ship's owner Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, said nearly all the 1,434 passengers and crew have recovered.
"There is currently only one guest and no crew members required to remain in their cabins, and we have had no reported sickness in the last 36 hours," Jackson said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon.
Jackson said officials increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, began collecting stool samples for testing and sent a public health and sanitation manager to oversee the outbreak response.
Lane Farguson of the Halifax Port Authority said staff would do extra cleaning of the port buildings, paying special attention to surfaces and objects that most people routinely touch.
"We're making sure we have increased cleaning going on at our facilities and certainly encouraging everyone to pay extra attention to handwashing today," he said as the 218-metre long ship pulled into port.
"This isn't completely unusual...Typically, we'll see one or two cases like this over the course of a year."
Many passengers coming off the ship downplayed the effects of the outbreak, with one man who didn't want his name used saying, "it's just a little virus and it's been cleared up."
Linda and David Aldred of Hatfield, England, said two of their six dinner companions had been hit by the illness but that the bug hadn't disrupted their trip that much, other than hearing steady reminders from crew to wash their hands and being urged to use sanitizer whenever they entered a restaurant.
She said a scheduled visit to Bermuda had also been cancelled.
"It was a ship of disappointment after that," she said. "But I can't fault the ship, they're doing as much as they can."