Cruise ship to dock in Tauranga after passengers fall ill

A cruise ship bound for Vanuatu was diverted to New Zealand as a number of people on board fell ill. 

The Voyager of the Seas docked at Port of Tauranga before 8am on Monday. 

The Ministry of Health says the seven on board who are unwell are not believed to have coronavirus - but typical influenza, or gastroenteritis. 

There is believed to be no risk of the coronavirus COVID-19 from the vessel.

"The experts are saying there is no risk... of the seven crew members who have been diagnosed with influenza A, apparently they have been quarantined but they do not have COVID-19," Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell told Newshub on Monday morning.

"We have a highly skilled team who are going on-board from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board... who will make an assessment of Voyager to ensure that if the crew and passengers are permitted to disembark, that they are safe and don't have any contagious diseases."

Since its emergence in central China in late December, COVID-19 has killed 2990 people and infected more than 87,000, according to official statistics. There are fears this is an underestimate, however.

New Zealand has had only one reported case so far - a plane passenger who came from Iran last week. They're in Auckland City Hospital in a stable but improving condition, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday.

The virus' spread around the world was boosted when hundreds aboard a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, got infected. After a short quarantine off the coast of Japan, many of those on board were allowed to return home - some taking the virus with them.

The Voyager of the Seas has a capacity of 4369 passengers and crew. 

Voyager of the Seas in Sydney.
Voyager of the Seas in Sydney. Photo credit: Getty

"Cruise ships docking in Tauranga are visiting under strict health and safety protocols, and host communities should feel at ease about welcoming them as always," said Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne. 

"Both Toi Te Ora Public Health Unit and the Ministry of Health have determined that there is no risk of COVID-19 on board the vessel."

Powell has asked for "no risks" to be taken that may affect Tauranga's elderly population. 

"We have more plus-65-year-olds in Tauranga than any other city in New Zealand and we know that coronavirus affects the elderly and the ill... now this is not [COVID-19], however it begs the question about taking any risks, at all, with this population base," he said.

"I've said, please do not take any risks. We should be prudent and make the right decisions for the residents of Tauranga."

There are restrictions on cruise ships that have visited China. 

"For many aboard the Voyager of the Seas this cruise is a holiday of a lifetime and through no fault of their own the ship has had to divert," said Dunne. 

"Their time in our care could leave a lasting positive impression and it is my hope that we all rally to extend the manaakitanga we are known for."

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