by Sébastien Vuagnat / with Andrew Marszal in Los Angeles
Passengers waiting to disembark from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in California faced frustrating delays Tuesday, despite US President Donald Trump saying the operation was going “incredibly well.”
The Grand Princess arrived at a sealed-off wharf at the port of Oakland in San Francisco Bay on Monday after days stranded at sea with 21 confirmed infections on board.
California Governor Gavin Newsom admitted the start of the operation had been slow, with just 676 people taken ashore by early Tuesday afternoon from roughly 2,400 passengers.
“We’re going to need to see an increase in those processing in order to turn this ship around,” he told a news conference Tuesday. “We don’t want to see it here for more than a week.”
Trump earlier told a White House meeting that the “big ship that came in yesterday” was “going along incredibly well.”
Health Secretary Alex Azar said it was “a very complex operation” but “progressing well,” with all Californian residents expected to leave the ship Tuesday.
Two people infected with the virus were among those immediately taken for medical care in ambulances, overseen by emergency workers equipped with gowns, gloves, respirators and face shields.
After an overnight pause, more masked passengers were escorted in small groups from the Grand Princess to ambulances and waiting buses Tuesday.
“The captain said they hope to have us all off by tomorrow night,” passenger Carolyn Wright, a 63-year-old from New Mexico, told AFP.
“We are getting really frustrated that they still have not told us where our ultimate destination will be,” she added.
Princess Cruises, the operator, said the evacuation would be a “multiple day process.”
After initial screening, those who don’t require acute care will be quarantined for 14 days at US military bases in California, Texas and Georgia — or flown to their home countries, in the case of foreign residents.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said 228 Canadians were repatriated Tuesday and would be quarantined for two weeks after landing at the Trenton air force base.
“They’re being met and brought to planes and being brought in a very dignified fashion back into Canada,” Trump added.
Some passengers who were taken to hospital but found to be stable will be quarantined in hotels and motels throughout California, Newsom said.
The 19 crew members who tested positive for coronavirus did not have symptoms and remained on the ship Tuesday, in isolation in their individual cabins, Princess Cruises said.
Newsom said the original plan to quarantine all crew on the ship once it leaves Oakland was being reconsidered. Some members of the crew — which is disproportionately Filipino — could instead be repatriated, he said.
A Florida couple travelling on the Grand Princess filed a $1 million lawsuit against the ship’s operator alleging negligence.
Princess Cruises had “exposed plaintiffs to actual risk of immediate physical injury,” a copy of the complaint filed at a Los Angeles court Monday said.
Newsom said it was now “incumbent upon seniors and those with any medical conditions, not to go on cruise ships, and to begin to socially isolate themselves from larger crowds.”
Some 28 people have died of the coronavirus in the US, with almost 1,000 cases reported according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.