Covid-19: US Pres Trump says Florida will evacuate stranded cruise ships

FORT LAUDERDALE (Florida, US), April 3 (NNN-AGENCIES) — After finally reaching a deal with authorities, Holland America was allowed to dock two of its ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Thursday. 

Port Everglades traffic records confirmed the arrival of MS Zaandam and sister ship MS Rotterdam after 5 p.m. local time.

Photos showed critically ill people being transferred from the Zaandam to waiting ambulances. The sick and local residents are the only ones leaving Port Everglades on Thursday, a Holland America document outlining the disembarkation plan showed.

The Zaandam and the Rotterdam, which rendezvoused last week, were both given permission to disembark passengers at Port Everglades after days of negotiation with local officials who feared it would divert needed resources from a region that has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“We were made privy of the details yesterday, and we’re hopeful that this new protocol that they’ve agreed to will sufficiently insulate our people in Fort Lauderdale at risk of (contracting) the disease,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told USA TODAY earlier on Thursday.

The remains of four elderly passengers who died on the Zaandam were also scheduled for removal Thursday evening.  Two of the four deaths on board the Zaandam have been blamed on COVID-19, and nine people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the cruise line said.

Between the Zaandam and Rotterdam a total of 107 passengers and 143 crew members have presented flu-like symptoms since March 22, according to a Holland America statement provided by spokesperson Sally Andrews.

Passengers who passed a health screening were transferred to the Rotterdam last weekend. The passengers on board both ships will be put into three basic categories, Trantalis explained.

In a document outlining the disembarkation procedure, Holland America said the first group, which includes around 1,200 passengers who are asymptomatic, will be allowed to disembark Friday or Saturday after passing a health screening.

Holland America said the second group, which includes 26 symptomatic passengers who are not yet fit to travel, will remain on board the ship. All those passengers will be required to quarantine on board. Once they are asymptomatic for 72 hours, they will be allowed to disembark under the same protocol as the first group.

And the third group, made up of only 14 people, contains 13 passengers and one crew member in need of critical care. All 14 will be taken off the ship. “Our local hospital system is willing and prepared to take them in,” Trantalis said.

The rest of the crew will remain on board.

In a Thursday statement, Holland America expressed relief that a deal has finally been struck, ending the ships’ saga, which began in mid-March when Chile denied the MS Zaandam permission to end the cruise there.

The ships are carrying 311 Americans and 52 Florida residents.

Earlier, President Donald Trump said that US authorities will evacuate passengers from a stranded cruise ship due to dock in Florida after being barred from several South American countries because of a coronavirus outbreak aboard.

Both the cruise ship Zaandam, where dozens of people have fallen ill, and its sister ship Rotterdam entered US waters early Thursday ahead of their expected docking in Fort Lauderdale.

Trump said the US was “sending medical teams on board the ships” and taking people off, with foreigners sent home.

“We’re taking the Canadians off and giving them to Canadian authorities,” he said. “Same thing with the UK. But we have to help the people. They’re in big trouble.”

State Governor Ron DeSantis, who issued a stay-at-home order on Wednesday for Florida’s 21 million residents, had earlier stated he didn’t want the ships to come into port.

But late Wednesday he told Fox News network that he had not realized there were US citizens aboard.

DeSantis, a Trump ally, had resisted calls to issue stay-at-home orders in Florida and likewise had said he didn’t want the additional burden of sick cruise ship passengers.

“I was told that these ships were all foreign nationals and that they had no connection to Florida. So I was just like, why would you just bring them to Florida?” the Republican said, explaining his earlier thinking.

“It turns out there are American citizens and we actually have Floridians.”

With nearly 7,000 coronavirus cases and 87 deaths, Florida — home to many retirees — has the fifth-most virus cases in the United States.

More than 30 other US states have already issued stay-at-home orders.

The desperate situation aboard the Zaandam, which was not allowed to enter several South American ports, attracted worldwide publicity, but it is just one of several cruise liners seeking permission to dock at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

On Tuesday, Trump signaled he was ready to help, saying “there are people that are sick on the ship and we don’t want to be like, they’re going to be ghost ships. You know, people turn those ships away.”

The Zaandam, which left Buenos Aires on March 7, was originally meant to finish the trip in Chile on March 21, but changed course due to the virus and was scheduled to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on April 7. — NNN-AGENCIES