Canadian passengers on board a cruise ship where four people have died from the novel coronavirus will be removed from that ship and a second vessel carrying healthier passengers and repatriated back to Canada, U.S. President Donald Trump said.
Trump told reporters during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday that both the Canadian and British governments are “coming to take the people that are on the ship back to their homeland” once the MS Zaandam docks in Florida Thursday.
“Canada is coming, the U.K. is coming, and we have Americans,” he said. “We have some people that are quite sick, and we’re taking care of that.
“We’re going to take the Canadians off and giving them to Canadian authorities, they’re going to bring them back home. … We have to help the people, they’re in big trouble, no matter where they’re from.”
Global News has reached out to Global Affairs Canada to confirm Trump’s comments.
About 250 Canadians are among the passengers aboard Holland America’s Zaandam, which was denied entry by several countries before Trump gave it clearance to dock in Fort Lauderdale.
None of the passengers who died were Canadians, Global Affairs Canada has confirmed. It’s not yet clear as of Wednesday if any Canadians are among the dozens who have fallen ill.
Roughly 1,200 passengers and 586 crew members were on board the ship when it set out March 7 for Buenos Aires, bound for San Antonio, Chile.
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Guests were placed under lockdown in their staterooms on March 22 after a number of guests and crew members came down with flu-like symptoms.
Healthy guests were transferred to a second ship, the MS Rotterdam, which is now also headed for Fort Lauderdale. But some of those passengers have now also gotten sick.
As of April 1, Holland America says 83 Zaandam passengers and 14 on the Rotterdam have presented with influenza-like symptoms, along with 136 Zaandam crew members.
“We have seen a significant decline in the presentation of new cases on Zaandam, with only one new case reporting in the past 24 hours,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.
Holland America told Global News that 150 Canadians were among the hundreds of passengers moved to the Rotterdam, while 97 still remained on the Zaandam.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Saturday that federal officials were working to bring Canadians home from the Zaandam, which at that time was anchored off the coast of Panama as it awaited a country that would accept its entry.
Despite protests from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Trump said he would do “the right thing” for humanity and allow the ships to dock there.
He said Wednesday that “we don’t have a choice” but to take the ships in, and said he was in touch with both officials.
“I don’t want to do that, but we have to,” he said. “People are dying.”
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Holland America said as of Wednesday afternoon, they were still waiting for confirmation to disembark guests from the ships in Fort Lauderdale. The ships will remain outside U.S. waters when they arrive near the Florida cost early Thursday, awaiting clearance to enter.
Once the ships dock, guests fit for travel by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control will transfer straight to homeward-bound travel, “the majority” of which would be on charter flights, the company said.
“Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitized, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks,” the statement posted to the company’s website said, noting those precautions “well exceed” federal health guidelines for travellers.
Roughly 45 passengers who still have mild illness and are unfit to travel will be isolated on board the Zaandam until fully recovered, and will only be allowed to travel once cleared to do so, the cruise line added.
A spokesperson for Holland America wouldn’t say if any of those passengers are Canadians, citing U.S. health privacy laws.
With files from the Associated Press and Canadian Press