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Coronavirus: MSC Cruises defies govt directive

Mthokozisi Dube

CAPE TOWN – Defiant leisure travel liner MSC Cruises may face the wrath of the law after sailing from the Durban port to Mozambique on Wednesday with hundreds of holidaymakers despite a total ban on cruise ships aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19.

Government announced a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people at a sea port. The directive gave effect to the prohibition of embarkation and disembarkation of Passengers at South Africa’s eight sea ports.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said in terms of these regulations, no passenger vessels were allowed in the ports.

“There is a total ban on cruise ships. This affects all leisure travelers…no cruise ships will be permitted to call into South African ports or will any be allowed to leave our shores,” Mr Mbalula said.

However, he described the departure of the 3,000-passenger capacity MSC luxury cruise liner headed for Pomene, Mozambique as unfortunate.

“This cruise liner understood clearly when they left with passengers that by the time the ship return, the ban will be in full force. This ship will be dealt with in terms of the new regulations and will have to be isolated as a quarantined vessel,” he added.

Prior to departure, the company claimed it had received clarity from various government stakeholders that the Durban and Cape Town ports were still open.

The company said it was still seeking clarification on the gatherings of more than 100 people, but it had confirmation from the Department of Health that airports, malls and cinemas were still open.

A traveler Jurgen Smith told local radio station, 702, that he was anxious about going on the trip.

“We’re nervous, we’re stuck in two minds as we don’t really want to go on now with all this happening. Also if someone is sick on the boat, we can maybe get the virus there.”

Another passenger Elray Redman told the Johannesburg radio station that he was not too worried.

“If I’m going to contract it, I’m going to contract it, however, I’m going to do whatever need to do to ensure that I don’t contract it.”

Meanwhile, South Africa is taking stricter measures to combat coronavirus that has killed over 8,000 people globally. South Africa had 116 confirmed cases by Wednesday midday and is currently under a state of disaster with schools closed, travel restricted and many working from home as a form of social distancing.

Government said restaurants, bars and night clubs will now close at 6 pm and can only host 50 people at a time. Failure to adhere to these rules may result in a fine or jail time for up to 6 months.

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