SYDNEY - Australian health officials tested a passenger onboard a cruise ship docked in Sydney harbor for a "respiratory illness" on Friday, causing passengers to fret about the potential of another shipboard outbreak of the coronavirus.
The New South Wales state government said health officials boarded the Norwegian Jewel shortly after it docked in Sydney on Friday from a tour around New Zealand to undertake a routine assessment of passengers arriving from overseas.
"There were three routine medical transfers, none related to respiratory illness," the NSW Health Ministry said in an emailed statement. "One person has been tested for respiratory illness on board with results expected this afternoon."
The health ministry did not specify the nature of the respiratory illness, or specifically rule out the coronavirus.
Test results were expected later on Friday, officials said, without providing detail on whether the passenger was taken to hospital. None of the passengers had been in China in the previous 14 days and there was no outbreak of any disease on board, officials added.
Norwegian Cruise Line said a "thorough inspection and rigorous cleaning and disinfection of the ship and terminal were conducted" when it docked in Sydney.
The presence of Australian health officials on the ship caused concern among staff and passengers, amid initial erroneous reports of a confirmed coronavirus case.
The largest outbreak of the coronavirus outside China has been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, where thousands of passengers have been quarantined on board for days. Another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, finally docked in Cambodia on Friday after being denied entry by five countries.
Angela Driskell, from Indiana in the United States, said passengers disembarking in Sydney were delayed by three hours.
"They said that Australian health department needed to be able to clear the ship and that they were taking a look at any passengers that had any symptoms at all of respiratory issues," Andrea Driskell told Reuters outside the Sydney terminal.
Australia, which has been on heightened alert for the coronavirus after 15 people contracted the virus after arriving from China, has temporarily banned the entry of foreign nationals who have travelled through mainland China.
A cruise security staff member, who declined to be named, said: "This virus is causing havoc, we just want people to be safe."
(Reporting by Colin Packham and Paulina Duran in Sydney; additional reporting by Swati Pandey, Jonathan Barrett and Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)