BRUSSELS - Belgian authorities held a cruise ship with over 3,000 people on board in the port of Zeebrugge on Wednesday over suspected cases of the coronavirus after the country's first death from the disease.
Carl Decaluwe, governor of West Flanders province, told Reuters he had banned anyone from leaving the ship because of two passengers who had been in contact with an infected person and were now in quarantine.
Doctors needed first to assess whether it was safe to let the passengers disembark, he said.
The Italian-flagged ship Aidamar, with some 2,500 passengers and 640 crew, had reached Zeebrugge early on Wednesday.
The liner, owned by Carnival Corp., runs a seven-day cruise taking in Hamburg, Southampton, Le Havre, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, with mostly German passengers.
Elsewhere in the country, a 90-year-old Belgian woman became the country's first coronavirus fatality.
Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced the death on Twitter, a day after her caretaker government ordered reinforced measures to stem the spread of the virus, including a ban on
indoor events with more than 1,000 people.
The linguistically divided country has been without a fully empowered government for more than a year.
There are regional differences in precautions, such as visitor access to care homes, and a dispute over the measures has broken out between Wilmes and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, who heads the Flemish separatist N-VA party.
Belgium now has 314 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Health authorities said hospitals were treating increasing numbers of patients with respiratory infections.
"This could indicate the start of a real epidemic in our country," the federal health agency said.