Portugal to repatriate passengers of cruise ship from Brazil

A view of the docked MSC Fantasia cruise ship, where Portuguese authorities began the coronavirus testing and repatriation process for 1,338 passengers, at the port in Lisbon, Portugal March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese authorities began the coronavirus testing and repatriation process for 1,338 passengers aboard a cruise ship en route from Brazil that docked in Lisbon on Sunday after its other European stopovers were canceled.

The interior ministry said passengers of the MSC Fantasia, mostly from the European Union, Britain, Brazil and Australia, would stay on board until all had been tested for the virus, after which those who tested negative would be allowed to disembark.

It said authorities in Portugal, which imposed a state of emergency over the pandemic on Wednesday with restrictions on the movement of people, were coordinating the repatriation efforts with embassies of various countries.

There are 27 Portuguese citizens and some with residency permits who will be tested on Sunday afternoon. No suspected cases have been reported so far on the ship, which left Rio de Janeiro on March 9, according to the Lisbon port authority.

"Beginning on Tuesday ... after verification by the health authority, the rest of the passengers will disembark and will be escorted to the Humberto Delgado airport to board humanitarian flights to their home countries," the ministry said.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab tweeted on Sunday he had discussed the repatriation of Britons from the MSC Fantasia with his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva.

The final destination of the ship, which can carry 4,363 passengers and 1,370 crew, had been Genoa in Italy, which is Europe's worst-hit country by the virus.

"There is no corona here, the corona is over there," a passenger shouted in Portuguese with a Brazilian accent from the deck of the moored ship.

Portugal has reported 1,600 cases of the virus and 14 deaths, far below the tens of thousands of cases in Italy and Spain - the two worst-hit European countries.

After doubling on Saturday to 12, the death toll increased only slightly overnight, but the number of infections rose by a quarter, the health authority DGS said.

Health Minister Marta Temido has said the epidemic is only expected to peak in Portugal around April 14.

(Reporting by Miguel Pereira and Andrei Khalip; Editing by David Holmes)

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