Canadian passengers stranded on board two Holland America cruise ships in Florida because of an outbreak of COVID-19 will be brought back to Canada on a chartered flight on Friday.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Thursday that the vessels, the MS Zaandam and MS Rotterdam, have been allowed to dock in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades.
“The CEO of (Holland America Line) has confirmed to me this is now underway,” he said in a tweet.
The flight is being chartered by the cruise company, Champagne said, and passengers experiencing symptoms will be treated locally.
Since March 22, 97 guests and 136 crew members on the MS Zaandam have reported influenza-like symptoms. All guests have been self-isolating in their staterooms since that time.
Four “older” passengers have died on the ship, according to the cruise company.
The ship set sail from Buenos Aires on March 7 and was scheduled to finish in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. Last week, it became stranded off the coast of Panama for several days after Chile and other ports along its path denied it permission to dock.
A number of healthy passengers were evacuated from the Zaandam by tender and boarded the Rotterdam.
Global Affairs Canada says it’s aware of 248 Canadians on board the ships — all passengers, except one crew member. Of those, 150 passengers were moved to the Rotterdam.
The agency says no Canadians are among the four people who have succumbed to illness on board.
Though Champagne didn’t offer specifics on travel plans, a document obtained by Global News states that 243 passengers are expected on a 10:30 a.m. flight to Toronto.
Earlier on Thursday, in his daily update on the novel coronavirus from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canadians on board the ships would be flown home.
When they return, the passengers will be subject to the 14-day self-isolation like everyone else, Trudeau said.
“Anyone who returns from overseas needs to be quarantined for 14 days, needs to be isolated so they do not spread COVID-19 in the population,” he told reporters.
“We’ve received many, many Canadians who have returned home over the past couple of weeks. There are still more to come, but far less than before.”
Holland America reached an agreement with authorities in Florida to dock Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.
In a statement, the cruise line said fewer than 10 people “need immediate critical care” and about 45 guests have mild illness and are unfit to travel. They will continue to isolate on the ship until they’ve recovered, as per guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
—With files from The Associated Press and Kerri Breen, Global NewsView link »