Protests stop Chinese cruise ship's visit to Philippines over virus fears - GulfToday

Protests stop Chinese cruise ship's visit to Philippines over virus fears


The 151,000-tonne World Dream, owned by a Hong Kong-based cruise liner, sits anchored at the international port in Manila on Wednesday. AFP

Manolo B. Jara, Correspondent

Strong protests over the possible adverse health impact from irate citizens and concerned groups have stopped the visit of a Hong Kong-based cruise liner, with more than 700 passengers and crew to a former US naval installation in Zambales province in Central Luzon due to the coronavirus scare.

In a related development, the Department of Foreign Affairs said they already started proceedings for the repatriation of 50 of the 300 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deployed in Hubei province, particularly Wuhan City in China, the epicentre of the virus that killed more than 130 with close to 6,000 new cases based on latest reports.

ShipPassengersPassengers from the luxury cruise ship World Dream wear face masks as they visit a theme park in Manila. AFP

A report from the Philippine embassy in Beijing reported that about 50 the estimated 300 OFWs in Hubei had expressed willingness to be repatriated amid fears that the coronavirus scare would worsen.

The embassy also reported that most of the OFWs complained they were afraid to go out of their homes and that they were running out of supplies like food and water following the lockdown imposed in Wuhan and neighbouring areas.

Meanwhile, officials said the MV World Dream was scheduled to drop anchor on Wednesday at Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City, Zambales but the owners decided instead to return to Hong Kong due to the protests.

The MV World Dream was one of two Chinese cruise ships, carrying a total of 1,700 passengers, earlier "cleared" by the Bureau of Quarantine and allowed to dock at the South Harbour in Manila amid fears of the coronavirus.

Officials said the passengers were allowed to disembark and visit the tourist  landmarks in Metro Manila, composed of 15 cities and one town,  reportedly as part of the annual celebration of the Chinese New Year.

But the ship owners cancelled the visit to Subic Bay, which has become a popular stop for cruise lines, due to protests from irate citizens, concerned groups and officials of Olongapo City and neighboring areas.

In his letter to the government, Olongapo Mayor Rolen Paulino expressed the sentiment of the protesters, pointing out  the temporary cancellation of the ship's  visit "would not be unprecedented considering that various cities worlwide have implemented lockdowns in response to the disease."

In addition, individual citizens and concerned group waving placards bearing signs like "No to coronavirus" on Wednesday gathered in front of the major gates leading to  Subic Bay that has been converted from a former US naval installation  into a bustling freeport.

Meanwhile, Eduardo Menez, an assistant secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced the government was coordinating closely with Chinese officials for the repatriation of the estimated 300 OFWs deployed in Hubei province and Wuhan City.

The DFA said Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin has "two private charter airlines on standby to fly to Hubei to bring our people home upon clearance by Chinese authorities."


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