Brit among four dead on stranded cruise ship struck by coronavirus

A British national is among four people to have died on a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship which is attempting to dock in the US.

Two of the four dead have tested positive for Covid-19, following an outbreak of the virus on-board the MS Zaandam. Nine other passengers are confirmed to have coronavirus, while 189 have reported flu-like symptoms, 116 of whom are crew members.

A spokesperson for the Holland America cruise line, which operates the ship, said: ‘One of the deceased passengers is from the UK. Due to US laws, we cannot provide any additional medical and health details.’

The Zaandam, which has more 200 British nationals on-board, had passed through the Panama Canal on Monday after being denied entry at several ports.

It has been receiving medical supplies and medical personnel from another Holland America ship, the Rotterdam, to which the company hopes to keep transferring healthy passengers. Both ships are seeking to dock in Florida later this week.

However Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is reluctant to allow more than 1,000 passengers to disembark in the state, but US President Donald Trump appears set to overrule him.

DeSantis said on Tuesday that Florida’s health care resources are already stretched too thin by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state currently has 6,741 cases of coronavirus, while 85 people have died. Overall, the US has the most known cases of the virus in the world.

DeSantis added: ‘Just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.’

If local authorities cannot decide on a docking plan for the ships, the matter will go to the the federal government for decision, the US Coast Guard said.

Trump previously said of the matter: ‘They’re dying on the ship. I’m going to do what’s right. Not only for us, but for humanity.’

Holland America’s president Orlando Ashford has pleaded with officials to let the passengers disembark in Florida, calling the pandemic ‘one of the most urgent tests of our common humanity’.

He wrote an opinion column in the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper: ‘To slam the door in the face of these people betrays our deepest human values.’

The Zaandam originally departed from Buenos Aires on March 7 – a day before the US State Department advised to avoid cruise travel. There were no restrictions in Florida at the time.

The ship had been scheduled to stop in San Antonio, Chile, then complete another 20-day cruise to arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 7. But since March 15, it has assumed pariah-like status, having been denied entry at a succession of ports.

Zaandam passengers said they were asked to keep their rooms dark and leave their drapes closed as they passed through the Panama Canal.

The ship was then forced to meet with the Rotterdam, which took on nearly 1,400 people who appeared healthy. This has left 450 guests and 602 crew members on the Zaandam. Guests have been told to stay in their rooms until they can disembark.

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