Americans Told to Avoid Cruises as Medical Team Boards Ship
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is asking Americans to avoid cruise ships just as it prepares to move more than 3,000 passengers and crew off the Grand Princess vessel off California following an outbreak of the new coronavirus on board.
Medical teams will enter the cruise ship Monday after at least 20 people where confirmed to be infected with the virus. They’ll assess the condition of those on board the boat, which remains in open waters near Oakland, California, California Governor Gavin Newsom said Sunday. Patients who are most acute and in need of hospitalization will be the first to leave when the ship docks in Oakland, while others will be quarantined at military bases across the country.
The State Department’s advisory on cruises comes as the Grand Princess, operated by Carnival Corp., joins a number of ships over the past two months either quarantined or banned entry from ports on virus fears. More than 700 cases were diagnosed on the Diamond Princess ship that was locked down off Japan for about two weeks in February, and other cruise-boat infections have also been identified, some after passengers disembarked. The incidences are fueling concern cruises are breeding grounds for the coronavirus, spreading as large numbers of people gather in the same area -- often at close quarters -- for long periods of time.
“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the advisory said. “This is a fluid situation,” it added, and Americans can’t rely on repatriation flights as the risk of quarantine by local authorities increases.
The State Department also extended the advisory to avoid crowded places in general, including long plane rides, for the elderly and sick.
Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, has been selected as the best site for the Grand Princess to drop anchor as it’s the easiest to seal off, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said in a press release Sunday. It is also the best site to securely move passengers toward their isolation destinations, and to ensure the safety of the public, according to the statement.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, said the passengers will not be released into the general public.
“We are not going to put infected people into communities,” he said. “Infected people will be quarantined, will be isolated appropriately so that we can make sure we’re not putting communities at risk.”
It’s not clear what time the Grand Princess, filled with passengers from 54 countries, will dock on Monday. The vessel, carrying 2,421 passengers and 1,113 crew members, is about two hours away from the Oakland port, according to Newsom.
“The City of Oakland, Alameda County and the Port of Oakland are stepping up in a major way,” Newsom said in a statement. “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.”
Almost 1,000 passengers who are California residents will be sent to Travis Air Force Base, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, and Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego, for a 14-day quarantine. Those from other states will be quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.
The crew will be isolated and treated aboard the ship, which will depart Oakland soon after disembarking passengers and remain at a different location for the staff’s quarantine, the Office of Emergency Services said.
The global cruise industry is facing a moment of reckoning from the coronavirus, with the State Department’s warning a further blow striking at one of its key markets for passengers, the U.S.
A backlash has been brewing in Asia for the past month, with luxury liners refused permission to dock from a number of locations. Malaysia went a step further at the weekend, banning cruise ships altogether from its ports. The Southeast Asian country’s Director General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said its health ministry won’t allow any cruise to dock until “the spread of the virus is contained,” in a Facebook posting March 8.
Thailand, meanwhile, is empowering port officials to decide on the spot whether to allow ships to dock or disembark. The country turned away Costa Cruise’s Costa Fortuna on Friday because it had passengers from Italy. Malaysia turned the same boat away on Saturday. Singapore, the Costa Fortuna’s home port, will accept the ship when it returns as scheduled on March 10.
The Westerdam, another Carnival-owned ship, was rebuffed from five ports last month, and floated in limbo for two weeks before eventually being allowed to berth in Cambodia. One passenger from the ship tested positive for coronavirus as she journeyed home. In Japan, authorities have been criticized for their handling of the Diamond Princess, with some passengers allowed to disembark and mix freely in the country after disembarking from the quarantined ship. Cases on board appeared to balloon during the lockdown period, as well.
The Grand Princess, which traveled from San Francisco to Mexico in mid-February, appears to be hot spot for the spread of the virus in California. The state’s first, and only, confirmed Covid-19 fatality so far involves a Placer County man who was on the ship last month. On Friday, Placer County public health officials confirmed three new cases, all related to the cruise ship.
Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, whose district includes the Lackland base in San Antonio, said his community had been “placed on the front lines of this pandemic without adequate federal support.”
“It is essential that these additional evacuees be confined to Lackland for all testing and treatment rather than burdening local hospitals,” the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee said that she was proud of Oakland for stepping to aid the trapped people on the ship.
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