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HEALTH

Cruise ship on lockdown over feared coronavirus cases after stops in Barcelona and Mallorca

Over 6,000 tourists have been confined on a cruise ship off the coast of Italy on Thursday over fears of two suspected cases of the deadly coronavirus on board.

Cruise ship on lockdown over feared coronavirus cases after stops in Barcelona and Mallorca
The Costa Smerelda is the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world. File photo: Costa Press Office
The vast liner was placed on lockdown while two people were tested for the deadly coronavirus.

Samples from the two passengers, a Chinese couple, were sent for testing after three doctors and a nurse boarded the Costa Crociere ship in the port of Civitavecchia, north-west of Rome, to tend to a woman running a fever, local health authorities said.

Costa Crociere confirmed that its Costa Smerelda ship, carrying some 7,000 people including the crew, was on lockdown.

It said it a 54-year old woman from Macau “was placed in solitary confinement in the on-board hospital last night with her travel companion”, and was following instructions from the health ministry.

The couple flew in to Milan from Hong Kong on January 25, before getting on the cruise, according to Italian media reports.

The Costa Smeralda, the company's flagship and the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world, “came from Palma de Mallorca and is currently engaged in one-week cruises in the western Mediterranean,” it said.

The ship which is 337 metres long, has 20 decks and 1,628 cabins with balconies, had arrived in Rome from Palma de Mallorca, where its passengers disembarked for a walkabout in the city and had previously docked in Barcelona.

One Italian passenger who said he was on board the ship near Civitavecchia tweeted at midday on Thursday: “We're blocked on board the Costa ship without knowing the (official) reason.”

“The couple's cabin has been isolated and they are in with the doctors,” an unnamed passenger was quoted as telling ANSA news agency.

“We're a bit worried of course. No-one is getting on or off the ship apart from the doctors. This holiday risks ending in a nightmare”.

China reported its biggest single-day jump in novel coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as global fears deepened with at least 15 countries confirming infections.

The World Health Organization, which initially downplayed a disease that has now killed 170 in China, was preparing to meet Thursday to decide whether to declare it a global emergency.

READ MORE:  How concerned should you be about the coronavirus in Spain?

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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