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Americans on Grand Princess cruise to be tested for virus closer to homes

(Reuters) – U.S. passengers on the cruise ship Grand Princess, which had been barred from docking in California because of suspected cases of the new coronavirus on board, will be rushed for testing to at least four quarantine centers, some closer to home, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp 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 ship, carrying some 2,400 passengers and 1,100 crew, is due to dock on Monday in Oakland, across San Francisco Bay from its original destination, Princess Cruises said in a statement.

From there, 34 Georgia residents and an unspecified number of Americans who live in the eastern United States will be flown to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, Kemp said in a statement. They were expected to arrive at the base 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Atlanta late Monday or early Tuesday.

“These passengers will undergo testing and be quarantined for possible exposure to COVID-19,” Kemp said.

“We must continue to support one another, trust the advice of the medical community, and remain vigilant,” said the Republican governor, who added that his “office remains in constant communication with the Trump Administration.”

Other passengers will be transported to Travis Air Force Base, 50 miles (80 km) northeast of San Francisco, as well as Marina Corps Air Station Miramar, 14 miles (23 km) north of San Diego and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, said Kemp’s spokeswoman Candice Broce.

She said the Department of Defense had told the governor’s office they are screening all passengers before they disembark. 

“People with positive tests will be transferred off of DoD property to a hospital or ‘location directed by HHS (Health and Human Services),’” Broce told Reuters in an email.

The announcement that the Grand Princess would dock at Oakland came late on Saturday night and capped four days of uncertainty surrounding the vessel – the ship has been linked with at least four coronavirus cases from an earlier voyage – and the fate of 3,500 people returning from a cruise to Hawaii.

Princess Cruises, a unit of the world’s leading cruise operator, Carnival Corp, said its information about the ship’s revised destination came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is coordinating the operation with state and local officials.

An initial statement from the company said the vessel was to “proceed to the Port of Oakland on Sunday to begin disembarking guests who require acute medical treatment and hospitalization.”

It went on to say those passengers would be “transported to medical facilities in California.”

Citing information from the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the earlier statement also said all remaining passengers would disembark on Monday.

Passengers from California, it said, would go to a “federally operated facility within California for testing and isolation, while non-Californians will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states.”

“Crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship,” it said.

PAST PREDICAMENTS

The predicament of the Grand Princess is reminiscent of the Diamond Princess cruise liner, also owned by Carnival, which was quarantined off Japan in February and was 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 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.

California Governor Gavin Newsom 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 Air National Guard 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. He said then the ship would ultimately be brought to an unspecified non-commercial port where everyone aboard would undergo another round of tests.

Pence said those requiring medical care would receive it and that all crew members would likely remain quarantined aboard the vessel. But he left unclear what was in store for passengers who showed no signs or symptoms of infection.

The vessel, which had remained in international waters, was still at sea 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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