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'Petrified' British couple told to leave cruise ship at centre of coronavirus outbreak
21 March 2020, 17:30
An elderly British couple have said they are "petrified" after being told to get off their cruise ship in Italy - the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
Joyce and Trevor Starkey-Jones left on the worldwide cruise on 6 March, and were supposed to disembark at Barcelona to fly back home to the UK.
The couple, aged 80 and 83, had hoped this would be the holiday of a lifetime, but within just two weeks of leaving, cases of coronavirus exploded around Europe, with northern Italy becoming the epicentre of the global outbreak.
When they arrived in Barcelona, Spanish authorities refused to allow anyone off, so the ship headed for Marseille, where only French citizens were allowed to disembark.
But now the ship, which has around 200 British nationals on board, has docked in Genoa and passengers are being told they must get off.
Joyce told LBC News: “Never in a month of Sundays could we have imagined what would happen.
"They’re said we’re going through a ‘sterile pathway’ to the airport. How can they make sure it’s sterile? You can’t be sure a driver hasn’t been in contact with someone before he got on.
“You don’t know what people are bringing onto the ship.
“We’re petrified. Not one of the Brits wants to leave the ship because we feel we’re safer here than we would be in Genoa.”
When asked if they feel if they would be forcibly removed from the vessel, Joyce said: “I do.
“The Captain hasn’t spoken to us once.
“We docked in Marseille. All the French passengers got off and then we sailed. We've had no information. We still don’t know if or where we’re getting off now.”
“The majority on cruises are elderly. Maybe not as old as us but they are elderly."
Their granddaughter, Jemma Sharpy, is now frantically trying to work out how to bring them home.
“Two weeks before they left for this amazing holiday we could not have anticipated what was going to happen and that it would progress to this level," she told LBC News.
“Had we of realised that at the time they would have never gone."
“We’re all tearing our hair out trying to figure out to get them home safely.
“We cannot understand why they being told to get of there. It’s mind boggling. The death rates in Italy are astronomical and they’re taking these vulnerable peopled making them get through.”
Earlier today, Italy reported there had been a further 793 deaths overnight, bringing the country's death toll to 4,825.
More than 53,500 have also been infected.
A spokesperson for Costa has told LBC News that "health precautions" are being taken to ensure the safety of their passengers, and there is "no other option" but for them to disembark.
They continued: "Because of restrictions to voyages imposed by most of the Eu countries, including Italy, France, Spain etc., Costa Pacifica (as all passenger ships) is not allowed to leave anymore with passengers onboard.
"So there's no other option. Health precautions are being taken for the flights and transfer."
They added: "Disembarking operations have already started, after the ship has obtained clearance from the maritime authorities.
"The health situation on board is regular and presents no problems."
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been contacted for comment.