The UK government is preparing to fly home around 200 Britons who were on board two cruise ships at the centre of a coronavirus row in the US.
The Zandaam and its sister ship the Rotterdam had been at the centre of a battle between federal and state authorities in the US, with the Zandaam reporting more than a dozen Covid-19 cases, plus some 190 people with flu symptoms.
Florida officials had been reluctant to allow the ships to dock over fears that taking more coronavirus patients could put more of a burden of the state’s already-stretched hospital.
However President Donald Trump said the ships must be allowed to dock on humanitarian grounds.
Four people have died aboard the Zandaam, including two officially diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The four included 75-year-old Briton John Carter, who died on March 22. His cause of death has yet to be officially revealed, but he was reported to have been on a ventilator in his last days.
The Zandaam, which began its cruise in Buenos Aires on March 7, was refused entry to several Latin American ports after its coronavirus cases emerged.
It joined with the Rotterdam to transfer its healthy passengers to that ship, before the two vessels transited the Panama Canal last Monday to sail for Florida.
On Friday, passengers from both ships landed in Fort Lauderdale, where the Zaandam’s cruise had originally been scheduled to end this Tuesday.
Fourteen critically ill patients were wheeled off the Zaandam on stretchers to be taken to local hospitals before their fellow passengers disembarked, with Florida residents allowed off first.
Asymptomatic patients, after being screened and cleared by paramedics, were taken by bus directly to the local airport, escorted by police officers on motorcycles.
Before disembarking from the ships, passengers received instructions to wear face masks at all times when travelling and to go immediately into 14 days of self-quarantine when they arrived home.
The British passengers from the ships are expected to start arriving home at the weekend.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are working closely with the tour operator, Holland America Line, to finalise flight arrangements for British nationals to return to the UK. Details will be available in due course.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the Government was “determined to help Britons stranded abroad” and that it would “work with British Airways to keeps flights running, so travelling Brits can get back to the UK”.
The latest development regarding the two cruise ships come as authorities in Mexico allowed 46 British citizens to disembark from another cruise ship off its Caribbean coast and fly home on Wednesday.
And some 1,000 passengers remain isolated in their cabins on another ship near Florida.
The Coral Princess has 12 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and is still at sea east of the Bahamas, its operator Princess Cruises said in a statement.
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