HURTIGRUTEN KEEPS NUMEROUS VOYAGES WITH COVID-19 CASES SECRET: Prior to outbreak during Svalbard voyages in July, numerous infected people on cruises unreported

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An outbreak of COVID-19 aboard a Hurtigruten cruise ship during two Svalbard voyages in July that triggered an investigation proving scandalous for the company was only one of numerous sailings since February were people infected with the virus were not properly reported, according to officials.

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Gaby and Albert Facq were aboard Hurtigruten’s Fridtjof Nansen during a week-log cruise in Britain when they became ill with the COVID-19 virus. The doctor failed to properly diagnose Albert and, after he and his wife were hospitalized, he died April 15. Private photo.

Bent Høie, Norway’s health minster, stated in a report published Monday by NRK neither his ministry nor the Norwegian Institute of Public Health knew about the earlier cases until they read about them in the media late last week. Among other issues, the company did not follow up tracking other passengers on the voyages, so their status is unknown.

“I am surprised that Hurtigruten has not followed up with passengers who have reported that they have COVID-19,” he wrote in an e-mail to the news network.

At least four passengers and an unspecified number of crew on voyages in February and March, near onset of the virus as a pandemic, were infected, according to a statement provided by Hurtigruten to NRK last week. Among the passengers were Albert and Gaby Facq of Belgium, who felt seriously ill during a week-long cruise in Britain, but the ship’s doctor did not diagnose their symptoms as COVID-19.

Instead, the doctor stated Albert was suffering “acute febrile illness/gastritis” and allowed to disembark and return home with no restrictions or notification of authorities. The couple was hospitalized soon after. Gaby recovered in about two weeks, but Albert, who was in his 70s, died on April 15.

“Your administration, your communication and your helpfulness towards your customers is a complete disaster,” wrote Joeri Facq, the couple’s son – who was not on the cruise, but believes he was infected when his parents returned home, in a July 21 e-mail to Hurtigruten’s customer service center in London.

The e-mail was sent about a week after the beginning of a week-long cruise in Svalbard by Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen – and about 10 days before the company revealed outbreaks had occurred on that voyage as well as a subsequent one that docked in Tromsø.

When announcing the outbreaks aboard the Roald Amundsen, the company stated it was not aware of any previous infected voyages on any of its ships.

Inquiries into the company’s prevention, treatment and reporting efforts regarding the virus quickly revealed a length and growing list of serious violations and questionable decisions. Global news of the outbreak, occurring shortly after many cruise lines were attempting to “reopen” their sailings after long idle periods, spurred another widespread cancellation period of voyages.