OAKLAND, California: The first passengers were taken ashore from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship that docked at California's port of Oakland Monday (Mar 9), with the infected "being dealt with in proper isolation", said Vice President Mike Pence.
The Grand Princess arrived in the San Francisco Bay after days stranded at sea with 21 confirmed coronavirus infections among more than 3,500 passengers and crew.
Emergency workers equipped with gowns, gloves, respirators and face shields loaded those requiring immediate treatment into ambulances, while all port employees and residents were cleared from the fenced-off landing site.
"We hope before the end of today to begin to disembark California residents," said Pence, appointed to lead the US response to the virus. More than 900 passengers from the state were on board.
All 25 children on board were healthy, added Pence.
"Individuals will be led off the ship in smaller groups," and "anyone who is symptomatic ... will be fitted with a surgical mask and disembarked via a separate gangway" to avoid disease spread, said a statement from Governor Gavin Newsom's office.
READ: COVID-19: 'Get us off this ship' pleads passenger on virus-hit Hawaii cruise liner
The ship had been idling off the San Francisco coast since Wednesday.
Passengers gathered on balconies were "whooping and waving at dock workers onshore" as the ship drew into port, said Carolyn Wright, 63, of New Mexico, from on board the vessel.
Tents were set up on the Oakland quayside, with the surrounding floor doused in what appeared to be disinfectant, she added.
Buses and flights were lined up to transport passengers.
After initial screening, those who don't require acute care will be quarantined for 14 days at US military bases in California, Texas and Georgia - or flown to their home countries, in the case of foreign residents.
Those at US bases will be given private single rooms with access to private bathrooms, said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.
Passengers will be fully tested at their onward destination to avoid delays.
Crew will remain onboard and the ship will leave San Francisco Bay, the company said.
The entire site will be decontaminated by pressure-washing with a bleach solution once the operation is complete.
DANCING ON DECK
Wright earlier on Monday said the mood had been lifted on board by the prospect of finally reaching land, and guests were briefly allowed to leave their cabins.
Some couples danced on deck as others walked laps around the huge ship.
"It really feels wonderful to have gotten out and stretched our legs," Wright told AFP. "I feel kind of energised and happy. It just makes you feel like, OK, things are happening and things are now moving."
She added: "Hopefully things will be smooth from here on."
Newsom said on Sunday the whole operation to bring passengers ashore was expected to be a "two-three day process," but warned it could take longer.
"We are still working out the enormity of complexity of making sure we prepare the site and ... prepare for a quick turnaround," he said.
On Monday, Princess Cruises announced full refunds, scrapped on-board charges and offered free future cruises to affected passengers on the Grand Princess.
But Canada - which had 240 citizens on the ship - became the latest country to warn people to avoid taking cruises, after the US issued a similar warning to vulnerable Americans Sunday.