Grand Princess cruise ship passengers bound for coronavirus quarantine in California, elsewhere

(Reuters) – An ocean liner barred from returning to port in San Francisco due to a coronavirus outbreak on board will dock briefly at a nearby terminal in Oakland, where passengers will be screened and sent on to medical and quarantine sites elsewhere, officials said on Sunday.

The Grand Princess cruise ship carrying passengers who have tested positive for coronavirus is seen in the Pacific Ocean outside San Francisco, California, U.S. March 7, 2020.REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The cruise ship Grand Princess, whose guests have been largely confined to their staterooms since Thursday, is due to arrive at the Port of Oakland to begin disembarking its 2,400 passengers as early as Monday, according to a statement by the California Office of Emergency Services.

Plans call for all 1,100 crew members to remain aboard the vessel, which will depart Oakland as soon as possible following the removal of the passengers and “will remain elsewhere for the duration of the crew’s quarantine,” the statement said.

Passengers requiring acute medical attention and hospitalization will be taken to unspecified health care facilities elsewhere in California, the state agency said.

Passengers who are well and from California – about 1,000 have been identified as state residents – will be taken to a federal facility “for testing and isolation,” the agency said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said separately that the Californian passengers would go to one of two military installations already serving as quarantine sites – Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento and Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego.

The remaining passengers will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states, identified by HHS as Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia. That number was not specified, though at least 34 are from Georgia, according to state officials.

HHS said all passengers from the ship would be subject to “mandatory quarantine” and health monitoring at their respective military bases for 14 days, the presumed incubation period of the sometimes-deadly respiratory virus, also known as COVID-19.

It said the U.S. State Department was working to arrange the repatriation to their home countries of several hundred passengers of other nationalities.

The Port of Oakland, located across San Francisco Bay from the vessel’s home berth, was chosen because it was one of few in the region able to accommodate a large cruise liner and was deemed relatively easy to “seal off” while passengers are screened and moved elsewhere, the Emergency Services Office said.

California Governor Gavin Newsom praised local officials for agreeing to welcome the ship temporarily. “They are showing the world what makes our state great – coming to the rescue of thousands of people trapped aboard this ship and helping tackle a national emergency,” Newsom said in a statement.

Initial word that the vessel would dock in Oakland came late on Saturday from its owner and operator, Princess Cruises. It capped four days of uncertainty for those on the vessel, which has been linked with four coronavirus cases from an earlier voyage.

Princess Cruises, a unit of the world’s leading cruise operator, Carnival Corp, is also owner of the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off Japan in February and became for a time the largest concentration of coronavirus cases outside of China, where the outbreak originated. About 700 people aboard that ship became infected, and six have died.

The Grand Princess was first denied entry to San Francisco Bay on Wednesday as it sailed back from Hawaii after state and local health authorities learned that some passengers and crew had developed flu-like symptoms, and that two guests from an earlier cruise to Mexico aboard the same ship later tested positive for coronavirus. One has died.

Health authorities say they probably contracted the respiratory virus aboard the vessel. Since then, at least two other passengers from the Mexico voyage have also been diagnosed.

Newsom had insisted the ship remain at sea until individuals aboard who were sick could be tested, and diagnostic kits were flown to the ocean liner by helicopter on Thursday.

On Friday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, leading the U.S. government response to the coronavirus, announced that 19 crew members and two passengers had tested positive. But the immediate fate of the ship had remained murky until officials revealed their next steps on Sunday.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Mark Potter and Daniel Wallis

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