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The Costa Smeralda cruise ship sits docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome, on Jan. 30, 2020.Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press

One of the world’s biggest cruise ships was in lockdown in a port north of Rome as two of its passengers, both Chinese, underwent tests to see if they are carrying the coronavirus. But the near-panic among the passengers subsided later on Thursday after the initial tests came back negative for the potentially deadly virus.

About 6,000 passengers and 1,000 crew were trapped on the Italian ship, the Costa Smeralda, when, early in the morning, European time, it reached the port of Civitavecchia, about a 45-minute drive north of Rome. According to Ansa, the Italian news service, and other local media, the two Chinese passengers from Macau, who are husband and wife, were placed in isolation aboard the ship. There are seven confirmed new coronavirus cases in Macau.

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The wife, who is 54, displayed a “high fever” and breathing problems according to reports. The ship doctor alerted the Italian health authorities to her condition and three doctors and a nurse from the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases, in Rome, went aboard to run virus tests on the woman and her husband, who was not displaying any symptoms.

The negative results meant that about 1,100 of the passengers who were due to leave the ship at Civitavecchia have now been authorized to go ashore.

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Earlier on Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, said, “There is no need to spread alarmism or to fuel any form of panic” because Italy was taking measures to handle the coronavirus risks.

The fear was that other passengers, all of whom were in close contact with one another, could have been infected if either of the couple was found to be carrying the coronavirus.

The cruise ship scare came as Russia closed its 4,000-kilometre land border with China, where the coronavirus was first detected in late December. The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has already blocked Chinese tour groups from entering Russia even though there are no confirmed cases of the virus in the country. Major airlines, including Air Canada, have suspended their flights to Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities.

Almost 7,800 coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide; China has said at least 213 people have died from the infection as of Thursday. That’s up from the 132 reported deaths on the previous day. The UN’s World Health Organization was to meet on Thursday in Geneva to decide whether to declare the virus outbreak a global emergency.

The new ship is owned by Carnival Corp., the international cruise behemoth. Its shares slumped 8 per cent Thursday morning on the news of the Costa Smeralda’s lockdown, but shed about half their losses after the news of the negative test results emerged.

The 337-metre ship is listed as the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world and is operated by Costa Cruises of Genoa, the company’s Italian subsidiary.

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