Families of cruise ship Britons call coronavirus quarantine a 'death sentence'

The Grand Princess cruise ship is currently under quarantine off the coast of San Francisco, California. (AP)

The families of Britons trapped onboard a US-bound cruise ship have blasted the decision to quarantine the vessel as a “death sentence”.

The Grand Princess has been stopped from docking in San Francisco amid evidence it was the breeding ground for a cluster of nearly 20 cases of Covid-19 that had resulted in at least one death after a previous voyage.

More than 3,500 people from 54 countries were heading from Hawaii to San Francisco and are now being held off the California coast so people with symptoms can be tested for the virus.

But the worried relatives of 140 British nationals onboard the Grand Princess have spoken of their concern at the decision.

Medical personnel checking passengers on the ship this week. (AP)

Lisa Egan, whose 90-year-old dad Cliff is on board, told The Sun: “I’m worried he won’t survive if he has the virus. Keeping people on board is going to be a death sentence for many.”

While passenger Jackie Bissell, of Dartford, Kent, said: “We are waiting for the ship's captain but I think he’s as much in the dark as we are.”

Jackie’s daughter Michelle said that passengers onboard had been told that only Americans allowed to disembark for testing.

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She said: “I just want Boris to get involved now. My mum has been told that the Americans are going to leave the ship.

“She hasn’t been outside for three days. The food is inedible now, and I’m really quite concerned.”

Another passenger, Sharon, 58, said she fears there may be deaths during the quarantine.

“I’m thinking more and more that this is going to end up like the Diamond Princess with hundreds getting it,” she said.

“There’s definitely a very good chance there could be deaths while we’re in quarantine — most of the passengers are over-70s, so they’re the most vulnerable.

“The longer we’re on here, the more frightened and anxious we’re getting. The staff are all wearing masks and run away when we try to speak to them.”

On Saturday, cruise officials disclosed more information about how they think the Grand Princess outbreak occurred.

Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, said it is believed a 71-year-old Northern California man who later died of the virus was probably sick when he boarded the ship for a February 11 cruise to Mexico.

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The passenger visited the medical centre the day before disembarking with symptoms of respiratory illness, he said.

Others from several states and Canada who were on that voyage have also tested positive.

The passenger probably infected his dining room server, who also tested positive for the virus, Mr Tarling said, as did two people travelling with the man.