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Henderson couple return after coronavirus scare scraps cruise in Asia

A Henderson couple returned home Sunday from a cruise vacation in Asia, during which their ship was turned away from multiple countries for fear of spreading the new coronavirus from China.

Most recently, Malaysian officials reported that a fellow passenger aboard the Holland America Line ship MS Westerdam tested positive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the virus that causes COVID-19, the official name for the respiratory disease. The ship had 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members.

Paulette Schaeffer, a retired nurse, said she and her husband, Joseph, were confident they were not sick and had at least three health checks during the cruise once concerns were raised that the virus was aboard the ship.

For the health checks, the Schaeffers had to fill out forms and have their temperatures taken.

“Everyone was checked on board,” Joseph Schaeffer said. “Someone didn’t show up, and they paged him by his room number to come down and do it.”

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“They were very thorough,” Paulette Schaeffer added. The two reported, Sunday afternoon from their Henderson home, that they did not have any symptoms and were just jet-lagged from all the travel.

The MS Westerdam departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1 for a 14-day cruise. The Schaeffers were able to spend some time in part of Taiwan, but their ship was rejected at ports in the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Guam, as well as others in Taiwan.

When their ship was stuck at sea, it felt like a “restful resort,” Joseph said. “There were drink and food and entertainment and we didn’t have to go anywhere.”

The crew made the time enjoyable and at the end of the trip, there was a ceremony to thank the passengers for their patience.

Paulette Schaeffer could also tell there was some frustration among the administrative staff — who were trying to find a place to disembark and book hotel rooms and flights for passengers.

Despite the setbacks, the crew “ were just wonderful,” she said.

“It was like being in an all-inclusive resort at sea for two weeks,” Joseph Schaeffer said.

The recent events haven’t deterred the Schaeffers’ travel plans; they said they plan to visit some of the places that turned them away, such as Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Paulette Schaeffer said they were impressed by the service and would travel with Holland America Line again.

The company paid for passengers’ flights home, and passengers received a full refund of their fare and a “100% future cruise credit,” according to a statement from the company.

Getting home

Joseph and Paulette Schaeffer deboarded the MS Westerdam at Sihanoukville, a city along the southwest coast of Cambodia, on Friday local time. They flew to the capital, Phnom Penh, and spent the night in a hotel. The Schaeffers then flew to Singapore on Saturday morning and had an eight-hour layover.

They arrived at LAX on Saturday evening. After they were processed, the couple rented a car and drove to their home.

The Schaeffers arrived at 1:45 a.m. Sunday.

The couple is now catching up on housework and completed a run to Costco to stock up on food after being gone for more than 30 days.

Looking at media coverage of the MS Westerdam, Joseph Schaeffer said he believes everyone on board was free of the virus.

“It doesn’t seem to me that the whole world should be jumping at this,” he said.

Paulette Schaeffer added, “There are more deaths from the flu than there have been from this particular virus.”


The Schaeffers said they were screened at the airports in Phnom Penh and Singapore. Cameras on tripods automatically took the temperatures of people passing through.

At LAX, the two recalled seeing about 1,000 people in a hall waiting to be screened — including some they recognized from their cruise. The two answered verbal questions given by a man from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The questions included whether they felt sick, had visited mainland China or knew anyone who had contracted the virus.

A public information officer at LAX declined to comment. A call to the Atlanta-based CDC was not returned by deadline.

Passengers who felt sick during the cruise were all screened for COVID-19, according to the statement issued Feb. 13 from Holland America Line.

“Out of an abundance of caution, 20 guests and crew who visited the medical center during this cruise were screened for coronavirus,” according to the statement. “All results came back negative from the Pasteur Laboratory in Phnom Penh and the results were announced by the Cambodian Health Ministry today (Feb. 13).”

Contact Alex Chhith at achhith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0290. Follow @alexchhith on Twitter.

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