A cruise ship with a cluster of coronavirus cases that forced it to idle off the California coast for days has arrived at a port as officials prepared to take passengers to military bases for quarantine or get them back to their home countries.
The Grand Princess pulled into the Port of Oakland with more than 3,500 people aboard — 21 of them infected with the new virus. Some people waved from their balconies or left their cabins to go on to the decks.
It is unclear how many travellers will get off the ship on Monday — the captain told passengers that not everyone would.
US passengers will be flown or bussed from the port — chosen because of its proximity to an airport and a military base — to bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and a 14-day quarantine.
The ship is carrying people from 54 countries and foreigners will be returned home.
About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom have tested positive for Covid-19, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere, California governor Gavin Newsom said.
The ship had been held off the coast since Wednesday amid evidence it was the breeding ground for infections tied to a previous voyage.
Passengers from the previous voyage have tested positive in California and other states. Six Canadians who were on the Grand Princess from February 11 to 21 were confirmed to have the virus.
The virus has infected 600 people in the US, and at least 26 have died, most in Washington state.
Cases have topped 111,000 worldwide and more than 3,800 people have died, the bulk of them in China.
On Wall Street, a combination of coronavirus fears and plunging oil prices sent stocks plummeting on Monday.
The California governor and Oakland mayor sought to reassure people that none of the cruise ship passengers would be exposed to the public before completing the quarantine. Officials also were trying to decide where the ship and its crew would go next.
“That ship will turn around — and they are currently assessing appropriate places to bring that quarantined ship — but it will not be here in the San Francisco Bay,” Mr Newsom said.
Another cruise ship, the Regal Princess, pulled into a Florida port late on Sunday after being held off the coast for hours while awaiting test results for two crew members, who did not have symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
Thousands of passengers on a third Princess Cruises ship are being kept on board while crew members are tested for Covid-19.
The Caribbean Princess, on a 10-day trip to the Panama Canal, was scheduled to dock in Grand Cayman on Monday, but the Çalifornia-based cruise line said it will keep passengers and crew from disembarking, and will pick up test kits after two crew members transferred from a Princess ship in California where a guest had tested positive for COVID-19.
These crew members being tested are asymptomatic and are remaining alone in their rooms “out of an abundance of caution” as the ship returns to Fort Lauderdale, the company said.
The ship is under a “no sail order” from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which will require it to remain at anchor off the coast of Florida until further notice, the statement said. It was originally scheduled to return to Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.
The State Department warned against travel on cruise ships because of “increased risk of infection of Covid-19 in a cruise ship environment”.
Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus.
Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.