April 2 – Florida officials on Thursday said they were prepared to allow two Holland America cruise ships with coronavirus patients aboard dock at a port near Fort Lauderdale, resolving a days-long impasse that drew the attention of President Donald Trump.
A unified command consisting of local, state and federal officials met via conference call late Wednesday to finalize a plan that will need approval from the Broward County Commission.
“If the experts forming the operational plans are going to unanimously agree to it, it’s something I guess we’ll figure out a way to move forward with,” Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine told Reuters.
The tentative agreement would allow the cruise line’s Rotterdam and Zaandam ships to dock at the Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale after 27 days at sea, NBC reported. Four passengers aboard the Zaandam have died, two of them after becoming infected by the coronavirus.
The port’s website showed the vessels were scheduled to dock at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. EDT (1700 and 1730 GMT).
A Port Everglades spokeswoman said on Thursday that the space was being held open at the port to accommodate the arrival of the Zaandam, with nearly 1,050 passengers and crew, and the Rotterdam, with almost 1,450 on board.
Though the details of the plan have yet to be released, Holland America said in a statement on its website that more than 1,200 passengers from both ships would transfer straight to charter flights to their homes.
“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 cruise line said.
About 45 sick passengers will stay under quarantine on the Zaandam ship, and about 10 passengers, who are in critical condition, will be transferred to area hospitals.
The deal comes after Trump earlier this week urged Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican, to drop his opposition to accepting the ships.
DeSantis initially opposed the ships’ arrival in his state, and told Fox News this week he did not want passengers to be “dumped” in south Florida.
The nation’s top infectious disease officials also urged that passengers be taken off the ships as soon as possible to prevent further spread of the highly contagious virus.
Anthony Fauci, one of Trump’s chief advisers on the pandemic, had urged Florida to reach an agreement to allow the passengers to get off the ships.
“You have to take care of the people who are ill. You just have an obligation to do that. And as quickly as possible. You’ve got to get the people who are not sick, who are not infected, off the ship,” Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS “This Morning” just before the deal was reported.
Keith Kobler, a passenger on one of the ships along with his wife Doris, told NBC that they were aware that the country had undergone a severe shift over the past month as the coronavirus spread nationwide.
“It’s probably going to be strange for us,” he told NBC. (Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis and Nick Macfie)
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