WORLD NEWS Caribbean island refuses to allow passengers off measles-hit ship

By Nick Allen

A CRUISE ship belonging to the Church of Scientology has been quarantined in the Caribbean after a person on board was diagnosed with measles.

Passengers and crew of the 10,328-ton Freewinds were prevented from leaving the ship by authorities on St Lucia. The infected person was reportedly a female crew member, although it was unclear if she was a Scientologist.

Dr Merlene Fredericks-James, St Lucia’s chief medical officer, said: “Because of the risk of potential infection, not just from the confirmed measles case, but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark.”

It came as the US is facing its worst measles outbreak in 25 years, with more than 700 people infected in 22 states this year. Health officials have blamed the resurgence on the so-called “anti-vax” movement, where misinformation has been spread about the risk of vaccinations. The majority of US cases have occurred in children who have not been given MMR, the three-way vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, which confers immunity.

The rate of transmission from an infected person to another who lacks immunity is about 90 per cent, and an infected person can be contagious for four days before showing signs. Alex Azar, the US health and human services secretary, called the outbreak “completely avoidable” and he attacked the belief, debunked by scientific studies, that the vaccine can cause autism. This had led to a fall in vaccination rates in some communities.

States including New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota and Iowa are considering laws to ban parents from citing religious or personal beliefs to avoid vaccinating their children.

The Church of Scientology has not made any pronouncements that would discourage vaccination although some high-profile members have expressed anti-vaccination views.

According to the Scientology website, Freewinds, bought in 1986, was a “religious retreat, ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counselling in the Scientology religion”.

In 2004 it was the venue for a surprise 42nd birthday party for Tom Cruise, the actor and Scientology’s best known member.

“The Freewinds is a very special place,” the website says. “It is the one place a Scientologist may go and be certain he will be able to devote himself entirely to his religious practice, and in the company of people who share his religious commitment and outlook on life in general.”

The Panamanian-flagged ship was still moored off the St Lucia capital of Castries yesterday.

Grahame White