A Gorham woman is stranded in Cambodia after another passenger who disembarked from her cruise ship tested positive for the new coronavirus that has sickened tens of thousands in China and others elsewhere around the world.

It’s the latest twist in the odyssey of Opal Staudenmaier, who embarked on a Pacific cruise in January and, as the outbreak swept through Asia, found her ship, the MS Westerdam, barred from port after port. Manila, Kaoshiung, Taiwan, and Ishigaki, Japan, all turned the 951-foot Dutch cruise liner away, fearing infection from passengers who boarded in Hong Kong.

The cruise was eventually canceled on Feb. 7, but the ordeal is far from over.

After finally being allowed to disembark this past Thursday in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, passengers of the Westerdam were informed this weekend that they couldn’t fly home after all. An 82-year-old American woman from the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus, twice, after flying with more than a hundred other passengers to Malaysia, The New York Times reported.

As a result, Staudenmaier and many other passengers have been confined to their rooms at a hotel in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, as they endure round after round of tests.

“This is a lot less tolerable than being ‘stranded’ on a luxury cruise ship,” Staudenmaier, a 48-year-old software developer at Idexx Laboratories, wrote in an email Saturday.

“Coronavirus” is the name of a family of diseases that typically affect the respiratory system. The latest outbreak began in Wuhan, China, and has spread to 68,500 people in mainland China and others across the globe. The death toll in China reached 1,665 on Sunday.

Cambodian officials have tested all passengers and crew members who had fever or flu-like symptoms since leaving Hong Kong on Feb. 1., Staudenmaier said. Staudenmaier herself had caught a cold recently, but said she had tested negative for the coronavirus.

The Westerdam initially received a warm welcome in Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted disembarking passengers in person last week, and the cruise line, Holland America, was able to charter flights to get passengers home.

Staudenmaier’s homebound flight had been scheduled for Saturday. She and other passengers took a charter flight from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, which is more than 100 miles inland, without trouble.

But when they arrived in the capital, she said, “we were greeted with chaos.”

Check-ins dragged on, and little information was available about when the flight would actually depart. Then came the announcement of a positive coronavirus test, accompanied by news that the flight was delayed – and then canceled. Other flights chartered by Holland America were not allowed to land.

Cruise line officials distributed letters to passengers in Phnom Penh on Sunday informing them that travel plans were, for now, up in the air.

“It will be impossible for us to plan any travel arrangement from Phnom Penh today for you to complete your homeward journey,” said a copy of the letter provided by Staudenmaier.

Phnom Penh is 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast, and tests were scheduled to begin again on Monday morning, Cambodia time.


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