The Costa Smeralda cruise ship of Costa Crociere, carrying around 6,000 passengers, is docked at the Italian port of Civitavecchia after a health alert due to a Chinese couple and a possible link to coronavirus on board, in Civitavecchia, Italy, January 30, 2020. | GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE

Some 6,000 people are being kept on board an Italian cruise ship as tests are carried out on two Chinese passengers suspected of having caught coronavirus, a spokesman for the Costa Crociere cruise company said today.

The couple arrived in Italy on Jan. 25 and boarded the ship, the Costa Smeralda, in the port of Savona that same day. They subsequently came down with a fever and are suffering breathing difficulties.

The liner has visited Marseilles in France, and the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca this week before docking today at Civitavecchia, north of Rome.

No one was being allowed off the ship while medical checks were carried out to see if the pair had the potentially deadly coronavirus, the company spokesman said.

He said it might take "a few hours" before the situation becomes clearer.

Today countries began isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 170 people.