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Coronavirus: Maltese doctors protest over MSC Opera cruise ship

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Doctors on Malta are threatening to take industrial action if a cruise ship is allowed to dock in spite of coronavirus concerns.

The Swiss-owned MSC Opera, which is carrying 2,302 passengers and crew, is due to arrive on Friday.

An Austrian passenger who left the ship at Genoa, Italy, on 28 February was later diagnosed with the virus.

But the ship's owner says the vessel was inspected by Greek health officials and given permission to sail on.

The Greek authorities examined the vessel twice, in Piraeus (Athens) and then Corfu, from which it departed for Malta, according to a statement by MSC Cruises.

Malta's health department is expected to release a statement on Friday about the issue, the Times of Malta reports.

Why are doctors so opposed to the ship's disembarkation?

Martin Balzan, president of the Medical Association of Malta (MAM), told TV Malta that if an epidemic broke out on the ship, Malta did not have the resources to "test or provide shelter for the 2,302 persons on board".

"The authorities should give absolute priority to the health aspect instead of the economy," he was quoted as saying.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Dr Balzan said it would be "highly irresponsible" to allow people off the ship.

"If the vessel is allowed in, MAM will call for industrial action aimed at protecting patients and protecting the Maltese population," he said.

Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, saw a dramatic outbreak while being held in quarantine in Japan last month. Six people died, with 621 infected.

What checks were carried out on the ship?

After leaving Italy, the ship continued its cruise to Greece and arrived in Piraeus on Wednesday, the same day that the owner was alerted by Austrian authorities about the passenger who had fallen ill.

Passengers making excursions onshore were reportedly called back to the ship.

After reviewing the ship's full medical records, Greek officials decided "no additional health measures were required to be taken" and allowed the ship to proceed to Corfu, MSC Cruises says.