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Cambodia applauded for accepting Westerdam cruise ship

(Xinhua)    15:10, February 15, 2020

Words of appreciation and admiration have poured in for Cambodia after it allowed the Westerdam cruise ship, which had been stranded at sea for days over COVID-19 fears, to dock at its sea port of Sihanoukville.

The ship, carrying 1,455 passengers and a crew of 802, had been denied entry to port by Thailand, Japan, China's Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines due to concerns over the virus.

The stranded cruise liner arrived at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS) in southwest Cambodia on Thursday and passengers were allowed to disembark from the ship on Friday morning after those ill passengers tested negative for the virus.

Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen welcomed passengers disembarking from the ship at the PAS on Friday by shaking their hands and presenting each of them a red rose.

"Today, although Cambodia is a small country, the country has always joined the international community in solving the issues that the world and the region are facing," Hun Sen said at the event.

He said the humanitarian decision to allow the ship to dock aimed at helping eliminate discrimination and panic over the COVID-19.

"The real disease is fear and discrimination, not novel coronavirus, or the COVID-19," Hun Sen said.

"If Cambodia did not allow this ship to dock here, where should it go? I'd like to send this message to the Cambodian people as well as to the international community that this time is not the time of fear and discrimination, but it is the time of solidarity to solve the problems we are facing," he said.

The prime minister said assisting the stranded people aboard the ship also demonstrated Cambodia's attention to the respect for human rights.

"What human rights do we say if their survival rights have not been respected?" he asked.

NEGATIVE FOR VIRUS

Cambodia's Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said the Westerdam arrived at the PAS around 7:00 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) Thursday and its operator reported that 20 of the passengers had fever, stomachaches, or diarrhea.

At that time, she said, the passengers were not allowed to leave the ship, and health experts were sent onto the ship to take the samples of the ill passengers for tests for the COVID-19.

The samples were helicoptered to the Pasteur Institute in the capital city of Phnom Penh on the same day, she said.

The test results indicated that the 20 sick passengers were negative for the 2019-nCoV (COVID-19), she told Xinhua, adding that the ill passengers are seven Americans, four Indonesians, three Filipinos, two Dutch citizens, two Canadians, one Belgian, and one Briton.

Preah Sihanouk Province's Deputy Governor Mang Sineth said some 417 passengers disembarked from the ship were taken to the Sihanoukville international airport, where they later took charter flights to the Phnom Penh international airport for their trip back home.

He said doctors and police forces had been deployed to ensure safety and public order for the remaining passengers who wish to do sightseeing in Preah Sihanouk city.

He added that 23 doctors are conducting scanning and checks on the temperature of passengers before letting them disembark from the ship.

According to the local authorities, the ship has requested permission to stay at the port until Feb. 17.

SMALL COUNTRY EARNING BIG ADMIRATION

The Cambodian government's decision to assist the ship has earned strong support and admiration from people in and outside Cambodia.

"Cambodia: Small country, Big heart!" Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said in a Facebook post on Friday, along with photos showing Hun Sen greeting those happy passengers.

Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, said the event highlights Cambodia's humanitarianism and moral responsibility.

"Although Cambodia is a small and poor country, it has a big heart," he told Xinhua. "The love that Cambodians have shown to the world is sincere."

Long Chan, an employee at a garment factory in Phnom Penh, said Hun Sen's decision was completely right and laudable.

"It's a bold move to help those people, I absolutely support him," he told Xinhua. "Through this generous gesture, I believe that the world will better know and love Cambodia."

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the Cambodian government for the Westerdam's entry.

"This is an example of the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for," he said in a letter. "Outbreaks can bring out the best and worst in people."

"Stigmatizing individuals or entire nations does nothing but harm the response," he added.

The Westerdam operator, Holland America Line, said in a press release on Friday that it sincerely thanked Cambodia for welcoming the ship with an open mind and for making decisions based on facts.

"We are pleased with the successful resolution of this challenging journey that was complicated by unfounded fears stemming from erroneous information with respect to the medical condition of Westerdam's guests and crew," Holland America Group chief executive officer Stein Kruse said in the press release.

A large number of social media users inside and outside Cambodia have praised Cambodia for allowing the stranded ship to dock.

Katherine Jordan Lynn, one of the passengers, said that she would keep the country in mind for good.

"Cannot thank Cambodia enough. All passengers on board have been truly touched. And I will cherish the Prime Minister's gift of the scarf," she wrote in a comment on the Holland America Line's Facebook page.

"What a beautiful, generous spirit this nation has," she said.

Another comment by Geraldine Boyer read: "Special thanks to the people of Cambodia for offering your country as a point of refuge for the guests and crew. Your generosity of spirit will not be forgotten."

"We're poor in properties, but rich in mind. Our prime minister has sowed his generous heart everywhere," said a Cambodian Facebook user, Vann Neng.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liu Ning, Bianji)

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