SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia: The crew of a US cruise ship were given the all-clear from the deadly new coronavirus on Thursday (Feb 20), as Cambodia's strongman premier suggested a former passenger who tested positive had caught it after leaving the country.
The Westerdam was at sea for two weeks, rejected by five countries over fears its passengers could be carrying the virus, which has killed more than 2,100 people.
But Cambodia's premier Hun Sen allowed it to dock on the country's southern coast on February 13, and hundreds disembarked after basic health checks.
Among them was an 83-year-old American woman, who was later stopped in Malaysia and diagnosed with the virus.
The discovery sent reverberations of fear across the region as passengers had since scattered via flight hubs to return home.
The remaining passengers and 747 crew members were tested for the virus in Cambodia, but all came back negative.
Hun Sen, who had defended his decision to allow the ship to dock, was triumphant.
"We did not find it here. Did it happen when she arrived in Malaysia?" he said in a speech Thursday in Phnom Penh, referring to the American woman's case.
Cruise operator Holland America offered its "sincere gratitude".
The Westerdam is expected to leave in the coming days.
The bombastic premier is a staunch ally of China, even travelling to Beijing earlier this month in a show of solidarity.
Cambodia receives billions of dollars in soft loans, infrastructure and investment from China. But Western governments have in recent years upped criticism over Cambodia's human rights situation.
The same week Hun Sen embraced passengers alighting from the Westerdam, the European Union decided to partially withdraw Cambodia's tariff preferences over rights violations.
But the premier – Asia's longest-serving leader – dismissed suggestions that his moves were calculated.
"We didn't use this story as political capital," he insisted.
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