MIAMI - Florida officials have agreed to allow two Holland America Line cruise ships afflicted with the coronavirus to dock at a port in Fort Lauderdale, resolving an impasse that drew the attention of President Donald Trump, NBC reported on Thursday (Apr 2).
The 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, according to an NBC News article. Four passengers aboard the Zaandam have died, two of them after becoming infected by the coronavirus, NBC said.
Representatives for the cruise line and Broward County, which contains Fort Lauderdale, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the deal.
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The port's website showed the vessels were scheduled to dock at 1.00pm and 1.30pm EDT (1700 and 1730 GMT). The Zaandam is carrying nearly 1,050 passengers and crew, while the Rotterdam has almost 1,450 on board.
Nine people suspected of having COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, will go to a Broward Health hospital, while foreign nationals will board buses directly to an airport before flying by charter planes back to their home countries, NBC reported. Forty-five severely sick passengers will remain on board.
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The deal comes after Trump earlier this week urged the state's governor, a fellow Republican, to drop his opposition to accepting the ships.
Governor Ron DeSantis initially opposed the ships' arrival in his state, and told Fox News earlier 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.
"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," Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS "This Morning" on Thursday just before the deal was reported.
"This is absolutely necessary to do before you get further spread of the infection," added Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
US Representative Donna Shalala of Florida said earlier on Thursday that it was immoral not to accept the cruise ship passengers.
"We Americans don’t turn people away," she told CNN. "We did once and to our shame. We turned Jewish refugees, desperate Jewish refugees (during Germany's Nazi era) away. ... We will never recover from that shame.”
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.