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Tourists leave ship in Barcelona after weeks in virus limbo

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Barcelona (AFP)

Hundreds of passengers from an Italian cruise ship disembarked in Barcelona on Monday after five weeks without setting foot on land because of coronavirus restrictions.

Since the ship left the northern Italian city of Venice on January 5 for a round-the-world tour, no coronavirus case has been found on board.

But because of the crisis, nobody has been allowed to disembark since March 14 in Australia, with the ship cancelling all of its planned stopovers in Asia -- though it did make some technical stops.

Several countries have closed ports and borders in a bid to stem the spread of the pandemic.

With some 1,800 passengers, the 12-deck Costa Deliziosa docked early Monday to allow hundreds of people off before heading back to Italy.

The 300-metre ship entered port after receiving the green light from Spain, just days after French officials refused to let it disembark some 460 passengers at the southern port of Marseille.

First to get off were 168 Spanish and three Portuguese passengers who disembarked in small groups and were taken to the city centre in buses, an AFP correspondent said.

They were to be followed by French tourists who were to be bussed across the border to the southern city of Montpellier, a cruise spokeswoman said.

One of them was French pensioner Patrick Contini, 70, who said he and his fellow French passengers had been advised to disembark in Barcelona.

"They told us that the French government had suggested we disembark here and that they would transport us to Montpellier," said Contini, who lives in southwestern France near the Spanish border.

"It's a relief. If we'd had to go to Genoa, it would have been a lot harder to get home."

The Spanish government said other European passengers had been offered the opportunity to leave, saying they would be provided with "other means of transport to reach their home countries".

- Marseille has hands full -

The Costa Deliziosa is due to head back to Genoa, where all remaining passengers and nearly 900 crew will disembark, a statement from Costa Cruises said.

Meanwhile, the MSC Magnifica -- another cruise ship carrying a similar number of passengers which had also avoided the virus -- arrived in Marseille on Monday and 1,700 tourists disembarked, 700 of them French.

Regional health officials said none of them had been tested before getting off the Magnifica because "there were no cases on board and the passengers.. had not disembarked for 40 days".

Unlike the Magnifica, the Costa Deliziosa was not scheduled to stop at Marseille and French officials said its request was denied as the port already had its hands full and was not able to cope with another mass arrival of passengers.

Late last week, officials said they had allowed six cruise ships to dock in Marseille since March 15 to facilitate the repatriation of more than 2,200 French and European passengers.

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