Passengers from cruise ship hit by coronavirus rejoice in Cuba as they board flights to Britain

Passengers from cruise ship hit by coronavirus rejoice in Cuba as they board flights to Britain
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Fecha de publicación: 
19 March 2020
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Nearly 700 weary passengers stuck onboard a British cruise ship after cases of the killer coronavirus were confirmed rejoiced as they were repatriated from Havana to Heathrow.

Cuba allowed MS Braemar, operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, to dock in its waters after several Caribbean island nations - including Commonwealth states Barbados and the Bahamas - declined UK requests.

Over 680 passengers, most of whom are British, were flown back from José Martí International Airport in the island state's capital back to London Heathrow after 28 people self-isolated. 

They either tested positive for the coronavirus afflicting the world, or displayed flu-like symptoms.  

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines confirmed that the passengers flew out from Havana's airport on four charter flights. Passengers who were taken ill onboard flew out on a separate plane. Those not considered well enough to fly will be offered support and medical treatment in Cuba, where there are 10 confirmed cases to date. 

Critics accuse the Cuban authorities of exploiting the incident for PR, but passengers - who disembarked at the container port of Mariel - appear to have nothing but praise for the country. 

Steve Dale, a Braemar passenger, exclaimed: 'Thanks once more to the people of Cuba for their generosity and humanity. Hoping to come back here one day when we've all forgotten about Covid-19.'

Another passenger, 75-year-old Clive Whittington, said: 'Whether the Cubans took us in to get brownie points or not, we are very grateful. The worst thing has been being in limbo, not knowing what is going to happen next. 

 'We have been sailing around in circles for the last week really.'

Covid-19 has plunged the cruise industry into chaos as the global tightening of entry requirements has left many ships stranded or quarantines. Several cruise lines have suspended trips for the time being.  

The coronavirus has been slower to reach and spread in the Caribbean than much of the rest of the globe. Cuba has so far confirmed 10 cases of the deadly bug on the island.

Yesterday, the country's Health Ministry announced the first death from the virus - an Italian tourist, 61.  

Authorities are screening travelers at airports and have stepped up the production of face masks, while banning large cultural and sporting events. Family physicians are paying more home visits to monitor local communities.

However, Cuba is renowned for its preparedness in cases of natural disaster and has a long history of medical diplomacy, sending thousands of doctors on missions worldwide. 

'Let's reinforce healthcare, solidarity and international cooperation,' said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. 

The Government has not canceled flights from countries hardest hit by the pandemic or restricted social gatherings, in contrast to many other countries in the region. That has elicited concern among some Cubans.

Others have been concerned by the arrival of MS Braemar, and those passengers who will stay behind for aid.

'There were only a few cases... but now we are filling up on more,' said Pablo Cruz Estrada, 28, while polishing a 1948 Dodge at a car wash in Havana. 'Who would come up with such an idea?'

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