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Elkhorn residents Richard and Marcia Morgan were stuck in Phnom Pen, Cambodia, on Monday after disembarking from the cruise ship Westerdam which had been turned away from five ports of call due to concerns that its passengers may have been carrying the coronavirus.

Elkhorn residents Richard and Marcia Morgan were stuck in Phnom Pen, Cambodia, on Monday after disembarking from the cruise ship Westerdam on Valentine’s Day.

“We are stuck in Phnom Pen with no flights,” Richard Morgan wrote in an email to the Mountain Express on Feb. 17.

The Westerdam had been turned away from five ports of call since departing Hong Kong on Feb. 1 due to concerns that its passengers may have been carrying the coronavirus.

Cambodia finally allowed the vessel to dock. After hundreds of passengers left the ship, health officials discovered that they may have unwittingly spread the virus farther from its source in China.

Now called COVID-19, the novel virus had killed 1,875 by Tuesday, including 1,789 in Hubei, the city where the virus first hit the human population. On Tuesday, 98 new deaths were attributed to the virus. Total infections numbered 73,000.

The Morgans first contacted the Mountain Express on Feb. 15 after taking a 20-minute chartered flight to Phnom Pen to catch a flight to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. But that plan was scuttled when Malaysian authorities banned access to the Morgans’ chartered flight.

“The U.S. Embassy then took over making new arrangements,” wrote Richard Morgan on Saturday. “Five hundred of us are now in a phenomenal 5-star hotel on banks of Mekong River, waiting for yet another medical team to come to us for temperature checks. After that the U.S. Embassy has no idea what they can arrange.”

By Monday, the couple was apparently released from quarantine and waiting for a flight out of the country, but could not be contacted by email.

Medical professionals have become increasingly worried about transmission of COVID-19 from the 2,257 passengers who were on board the Westerdam after one disembarking passenger proved positive for the virus in Malaysia. She was reported to be in stable condition.

“Now, health officials worry that what Cambodia opened its doors to was the outbreak, and that the world may pay a price as passengers from the cruise ship Westerdam stream home,” The New York Times reported Monday.

In a story update Tuesday, the Times reported that “it is too early to tell whether the decision to let hundreds of passengers from the Westerdam fly off has the makings of an epidemiological disaster. Cambodian health authorities said that 409 of the 2,257 passengers and crew had left Cambodia for their homes scattered across the globe. The rest remain in hotels in Phnom Penh, the capital, or on the ship.”

As of Monday, there were 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., with 60 other cases pending. For more information go to cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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