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Coronavirus: More than 6,000 tourists lockdown aboard a cruise ship in the Italian port of Civitavecchia

An Italian cruise has turned into a nail-biting waiting game for more than 6,000 tourists being kept under lockdown after two Chinese passengers were suspected of having caught the deadly coronavirus, according to reports.

The couple flew in to Milan from Hong Kong on Jan. 25 and boarded the Costa Esmeralda in the northern Italian port city of Savona the same day, according to Reuters.

Shortly after, they came down with fevers and developed breathing difficulties, officials said.

Samples from the ailing couple were sent for testing when the ship stopped in Civitavecchia, north of Rome, on Thursday after stops in Marseilles, France, and the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca.

No one was being allowed off the ship while the tests were being performed, a spokesman for the Costa Crociere cruise company said Thursday, adding that it might take “a few hours” before the situation became clearer.

Costa said a 54-year old woman “was placed in solitary confinement in the on-board hospital last night with her travel companion” and that the crew followed instructions from the health ministry, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The couple’s cabin has been isolated and they are in with the doctors,” an unnamed passenger told the Italian 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.”

The ship had been scheduled to sail for La Spezia in northern Italy late Thursday, but would be detained in Civitavecchia “until we have an update on the health tests,” port Capt. Vincenzo Leone said.

There are about 750 other Chinese passengers aboard, all of whom appear to be in good health, local media reports said.

The shipboard scare came as China reported its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus deaths and global fears deepened over a spread of the disease, with at least 15 countries confirming infections.

To date, at least 170 people have died and more than 7,700 infected.

The Costa Smeralda, 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,” the company said.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government was “not worried, but vigilant and cautious.”

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