A TRANENT woman who has spent the last two months travelling the world on a cruise ship as coronavirus (Covid-19) spread has written a first-hand account of her experience of the global pandemic.

Annie Rayner was aboard the CMV Marco Polo, which left on an African and Indian Ocean voyage in January this year.

And she revealed how passengers on the cruise ship became one of the “most tested” groups of people on the high seas as they faced checks at port after port.

Annie, a member of The Waggonway Trust committee who turned 70 on the cruise, was travelling with her husband Tim.

She said: “At the beginning of the cruise, the ‘C word’ was a blessed relief from news of the ‘B word’, Brexit being imminent at the end of the month.

“Just around the time we started to drift out of range of BBC World News, our onboard printers broke down, and for a couple of weeks we had a news blackout, apart from what we could glean in ports.

“As we rounded the tip of Africa, health concerns were more about malaria, with warnings to cover up and use insect repellent repeated for each port day.

“Then on arrival in the Maldives, it all changed.

“We were summoned by local authorities to a face-to-face thermal health screening at six in the morning, and all passengers had to be seen before the ship could be cleared.

“This was repeated at several other ports, though some were less stringent than others – in Cochin we had to fill in a self-reporting form to say we did not have any of the symptoms of coronavirus; returning to another port, the masked security guard who jumped on our bus asked: ‘Where you from?’ On getting replies of Scotland, England, Australia, etc, he asked: ‘Any corona?’ We shook our heads, and we were waved on.

“By this time, we must have been one of the most tested groups on the high seas.”

Annie and her husband Tim returned home on Monday after the voyage was cut short, after they found more and more ports closing to them and the ship headed back to Bristol.

She revealed how the mood changed as the trip moved into March, adding: “At Safaga in Egypt, the ship was refused entry to the port until all passengers had passed a temperature screening.

“Tempers were somewhat frayed by the time we were finally able to dock and disembark for the long excursion to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

“The same testing happened across the Red Sea at Aqaba for Petra on March 10.

“The next day, Israel closed its borders, and so we could no longer dock at Ashdod for Jerusalem; but the company arranged a stop at Limassol instead.

“A sharp turn west on the map on the bridge channel was explained when the captain announced that we had now been refused entry to Cyprus. Doors had closed behind us, but now they were closing in front of us.

“There was no alternative but to head straight home, with a technical stop at Valletta for provisioning and bunkering. No passengers would be allowed to land, but perhaps we could get enough signal to contact home and let the family know what was happening.

“The next day was Friday, March 13. Deaths in Italy from coronavirus passed a thousand, and flights from Schengen Europe, but not Britain, to the USA were banned from midnight.

“At 21.20 hours, the captain announced we were no longer welcome in Malta, even for provisioning, and we were to go straight home to Bristol.

“The following day, the World Health Organisation declared Europe to be the new epicentre of the pandemic.”