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Cruise ship with 21 coronavirus cases on board awaits permission to dock in US

About 140 Britons are among the passengers on the Grand Princess, which is currently off San Francisco.

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The Grand Princess cruise ship is currently off San Francisco (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/AP)

The Grand Princess cruise ship is currently off San Francisco (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/AP)

The Grand Princess cruise ship is currently off San Francisco (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/AP)

US officials are deciding where to dock a cruise ship in California after 21 people on board tested positive for coronavirus.

The Grand Princess, with 3,500 people aboard, is currently in international waters off San Francisco, but authorities want it to dock in a non-commercial port so all passengers and crew can be tested.

Officials say there is evidence the ship was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of 10 cases during an earlier voyage.

US vice-president Mike Pence confirmed the 21 positive tests on Friday, saying 19 of them are crew members.

He added: “All passengers and crew will be tested for the virus. Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it.”

Princess Cruises said 45 of the more than 3,500 people on board, which includes 140 Britons, were tested in the first round.

A military helicopter crew lowered test kits on to the 951ft ship by rope on Thursday and later retrieved them for analysis as the vessel waited off San Francisco, under orders to keep its distance from shore. All passengers have been ordered to remain in their cabins.

US President Donald Trump, speaking at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said he would have preferred not to let the passengers disembark on to American soil but will defer to the recommendations of medical experts.

Virus Outbreak
Health teams wore protective equipment to deliver virus testing kits to the ship (Chief Master Sgt Seth Zweben/California National Guard/AP)

He said: “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either. Okay? It wasn’t their fault either. And they are mostly Americans.”

Health officials trying to establish whether the virus is circulating on the Grand Princess undertook the testing after reporting that a passenger on a previous voyage of the ship, in February, died of the disease.

In the past few days, health authorities disclosed that at least 10 other people who were on the same journey were also found to be infected. Some passengers on that trip stayed aboard for the current voyage, which increased crew members’ exposure to the virus.

Costa Fortuna
The Costa Fortuna cruise ship off Phuket, Thailand, after it was refused permission to dock (AP)

Meanwhile, Malaysia has turned away a cruise ship carrying around 2,000 passengers and crew from a port in northern Penang state, becoming the second country to bar the vessel from docking after Thailand.

The Costa Fortuna was turned away from the popular resort island of Phuket in southern Thailand on Friday due to the presence of 64 Italians on board. Thai health authorities have officially designated Italy a dangerous communicable disease area because it has been hit hard by coronavirus.

Penang port officials said they had turned away the cruise liner on Saturday morning following a directive from the transport ministry. The ship is now making its way to Singapore.

In Egypt, a Nile cruise ship carrying more than 150 tourists and Egyptian crew is under quarantine in the southern city of Luxor after 12 people tested positive for coronavirus.

Egyptian health authorities say a Taiwanese-American tourist on board the ship had tested positive for the virus upon returning to Taiwan in late February.

Local officials said there are Americans, French and Indians among the passengers. A health official said the 12 are isolated inside the ship while the rest are awaiting test results.

PA