Crisis deepens aboard cruise ship Grand Princess

The medical and psychological challenges for passengers and crew members aboard the Grand Princess have just become much more serious.

The cruise-liner is still in a holding pattern about 70 miles off the coast of California, in a maritime quarantine.

But now, following an airdrop of coronavirustest kits, it has been confirmed that 21 people on board have tested positive for the coronavirus: 19 are crew members; two are passengers.

Now officials must decide what to do with the 3,500 people aboard. It seems likely that the ship will head to a quiet pier at a military port and everyone will be tested for the virus.

That could take weeks, however, and there will be grave concern among officials in California that a few sick passengers will slip through the public health safety net and infect other people.

Over 140 of those aboard are British, including Neil and Victoria Hanlon from Somerset who told ITV West Country that they understand the need for precautions but that they are having a difficult time.

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Eight hundred miles further up America’s West Coast, in Seattle, I spent a few hours outside the epicentre of America’s coronavirus crisis.

At a care home here, l spoke to Bridget Parkhill, whose mother is in quarantine inside. Bridget fears that she will never again see her mother alive, describing the isolation being imposed on the elderly residents as like a death sentence.

Her mother, Susan Hailey, is 76 and fears she has the virus, she has said that it’s like serving a prison sentence - but without having committed a crime.

Currently, Bridget and other family members can only glimpse their loved ones by peering into the rooms from outside windows. It is a poignant sight and reveals the emotional toll for those in quarantine and for their extended families.

Perhaps more shocking is that Bridget told me that the main hospital treating patients in the area, the Evergreen Health Medical Center, has run critically short of protective equipment. She said that the devoted and heroic nurses are having to re-use the same face masks for multiple days, even though they are meant to be discarded after a single use.

That is an extraordinary and chilling insight into the pressures on frontline healthcare workers even here in the best resourced country in the world.