Mexico says cruise ship can dock amid virus fears

The MSC Merviglia cruise ship (L) lying off Cozumel, Mexico, on February 27, 2020

A cruise ship turned away from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands after a crew member tested positive for flu will be allowed to dock in Mexico as long as "health standards" are met, the country's president said Thursday.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters that the cruise ship Meraviglia, which has been anchored off Cozumel island in the Caribbean since Wednesday, "is being allowed to dock."

"We cannot act inhumanely. Imagine the desperation," he said, referring to the 6,000 people aboard.

Operator MSC lashed out at authorities for refusing to allow it to dock at its previous destinations for "acting out of fears" over the coronovirus, after it declared a crew member was being treated for seasonal flu.

Carlos Joaquin, governor of Quintana Roo state which includes Cozumel, said the passengers and crew would be examined by doctors "who will verify the health issues on board."

"If there is a risk to health there will be no authorization for landing," he added.

Earlier Joaquin said the vessel had been refused permission to dock after it arrived late Wednesday.

MSC said it had received clearance and was waiting to enter once "unfavorable weather conditions" improved.

A handful of people wearing masks took part in a protest at the dock on Wednesday, one man shouting: "We don't want the virus in Cozumel."

Coronavirus has hit more than 45 countries and killed more than 2,700 people of the 81,000 infected, the vast majority in China.

The first case of coronavirus recorded in Latin America was confirmed in Brazil on Wednesday. Mexico's health ministry said it was analyzing a possible case in Mexico City.

The Cayman Islands and Jamaica had refused to allow the ship to dock over the coronavirus fears.

The cruise firm said it was "extremely disappointed" that Jamaican authorities delayed a decision to give the ship clearance despite having been provided with medical records.

It said Grand Cayman authorities had also turned the Meraviglia away "without even reviewing the ship's medical records."

"In both instances, the ship was effectively turned away simply based on fears," MSC said.

"No other cases of type A influenza have been reported on board MSC Meraviglia. Moreover, no cases of COVID-19 virus have been reported on board MSC Meraviglia or any other ship in MSC Cruises' fleet."

The situation recalled the US cruise ship Westerdam, which was at sea for two weeks after it was rejected by five countries over fears its passengers could be carrying the new coronavirus.

It was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia.