Argentina is now grappling with a mysterious Covid-19 outbreak on a ship that has been out at sea for more than 35 days. Since all the sailors tested negative and self-quarantine before they set sail, but no one can be sure how the virus came on board and infected dozens of crew members. According to local health authorities in the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia, at least 57 out of 61 people on board the Etchizen Maru fishing trawler tested positive for Covid-19. Two of the crew tested negative, while the remaining two were still waiting for confirmation of their results.
The outbreak was reported for the first time on Saturday night after seven people on board tested positive for the virus. At the time, the health ministry said that the crew had been on the high seas for 35 days and had no contact with the outside world. Most oddly, all the crew tested negative and self-isolated for two weeks before setting sail.
This, however, would mean the chances of Covid-19 being introduced to the ship and its crew were slim-to-none. “The crew of the ship had 14 days of isolation in a hotel in Ushuaia, during which we believe they had no contact with people from the city and then they were sailing for 35 days,” Leandro Ballatore, the chief of Infectology of the Ushuaia Regional Hospital and member of the provincial Emergency Operating Committee, said in a statement.
“Even before coming to the province, they had a swab in Buenos Aires due to the policy of the company that brought them in and the result was negative. In addition, during the period they were here, we had no cases circulating in the province, for which we believe that there is no link with the population of Ushuaia,” he added.
One of the patients was transported to the Ushuaia Regional Hospital in the capital of Tierra del Fuego on Sunday, while another was admitted on Monday because the person was considered at risk. The majority of them remain quarantined on the ship and seek assistance from the local province. An investigation is now underway to see how Covid-19 appeared on the ship, but there are no clear answers as the ship followed all the appropriate precautions.
One of the most plausible reasons is that at least one of the tests performed by the crew received a false negative result in Buenos Aires. The virus could then slowly spread around the crew during their self-isolation without people showing evident symptoms before some of the crew showed symptoms once the ship had left the docks. However, this is still pure speculation.
“It is a case that escapes all the description that appears in the publications because such a long incubation period is not described anywhere,” Ballatore explained.
“We are focusing on the rest of the crew to determine if there are any other cases that have asymptomatic disease. There is much to evaluate and we are taking the first steps because this requires a backward analysis, we will even review the medical record book until March to evaluate all the events that were registered and understand the situation more,” continued Ballatore.