Coronavirus: Grand Princess cruise passengers grow anxious

Jocelyne ZABLIT
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This handout photo taken and released by Carolyn Wright shows the Grand Princess cruise ship during a cruise to Hawaii in February 2020

Passengers trapped aboard a US cruise ship stranded by a coronavirus outbreak grew anxious Saturday as the vessel idled off the coast of San Francisco with little news on when or where they will disembark.

One of the holidaymakers told AFP that passengers had been told by the captain it was unlikely the Grand Princess would dock on Saturday.

Jan Swartz, the CEO of Princess Cruises, said the company was awaiting instructions from federal, state and local officials on the fate of the vessel which had been due to dock in San Francisco on Saturday following a 14-day trip to Hawaii.

Authorities ordered the ship to remain offshore after it emerged that a passenger on a previous voyage had contracted the virus and later died.

Tests on 45 passengers and crew who had displayed flu-like symptoms confirmed on Friday that 21 people on board -- 19 crew and two American passengers -- had the new coronavirus.

"We are hopeful that ... authorities and health experts can quickly agree (on) a practical plan that prioritizes the health and welfare of all onboard Grand Princess, and their home communities," Swartz told reporters at a press briefing.

"Our preference is to get the guests and the crew off the ship as soon as possible," she added.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the US government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, gave no indication Saturday as to when the ship might dock, saying only that it would be over the weekend.

He said all 3,533 passengers and crew would be tested for coronavirus and quarantined as appropriate.

Swartz said 2,016 of the 2,422 guests are from the United States and 938 are from California. There are 54 nationalities onboard.

Many of the crew hail from the Philippines and several are among those diagnosed with the virus, the cruise company said.

Carolyn Wright, 63, a professional photographer traveling with a friend, told AFP that passengers were increasingly frustrated.

"My friend has COPD (pulmonary disease) and she is extremely concerned about the virus," she said. "So far we are both fine and we are really hoping to stay that way."

She said guests -- who have been confined to their cabins since Thursday -- at one point on Friday were told they would be allowed out for fresh air, but the idea was nixed by health authorities.

"I feel bad for anyone who has any level of claustrophobia," she said. "There are also so many older people on board who don't play with their phones.

"Luckily, my friend and I are a bit geeky and we are used to entertaining ourselves with our phones and iPad."

Swartz said the crew was trying to help by providing complimentary internet, additional movie channels and newspapers.

Guests have also been given access to a mental wellness support hotline and supplies are being flown in for anyone needing prescription medication, she said.

Kari Kolstoe, 60, who has stage 4 cancer, told CNN she was worried she won't make it home in time to start chemotherapy treatment on Monday.

"I'm in extremely delicate health right now," Kolstoe, who is traveling with her husband, told the outlet.

"If I don't have the coronavirus, I need to get that found out sooner rather than later because every day we argue about where we (the ship) are going and what the protocols are going to be, my cancer is growing," she said.

More than 200 people have contracted the virus in the United States, and 19 have died, 16 of them in the West Coast state of Washington.

Worldwide, the number of cases rose to over 100,000 with 3,500 dead across 95 nations and territories, according to the latest count by AFP.