Coronavirus-hit cruise ship carrying Britons heads to US port for testing

By Tom Pilgrim and Tess de la Mare, PA
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Coronavirus-hit cruise ship carrying Britons heads to US port for testing

Authorities in the US are preparing to respond to a coronavirus-hit cruise ship carrying British passengers after 21 people on board tested positive for the illness.

US vice-president Mike Pence said on Friday that the Grand Princess, carrying more than 3,500 people on board, including 140 Britons, had been directed to a non-commercial port for testing.

So far 45 people on board the ship off the Californian coast have been tested, with nineteen of those diagnosed with the virus being crew members.

It comes as the British public was told to prepare itself ahead of the potential introduction of “social distancing” policies to contain the spread of the virus.

Public Health England (PHE) has urged members of the public to “plan ahead” if they had to self-isolate at home for a couple of weeks.

In the UK, 164 people have tested positive for Covid-19 – the illness caused by this type of coronavirus.

Confirmed cases include 147 in England, 11 in Scotland, four in Northern Ireland and two in Wales.

Globally, the number of reported coronavirus cases has risen past 100,000, with more than 3,400 deaths.

Another Princess cruise ship carrying Britons, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus.

Last week, a British tourist who had been on board the ship became the first UK citizen to die after testing positive for the virus.

This was followed by confirmation on Friday that a man in his early 80s had become the second person to die in the UK in connection with the disease.

The man, who tested positive for coronavirus and had underlying health conditions, died on Thursday while being treated at Milton Keynes University Hopsital.

A family member has since claimed the hospital was “too slow” to detect the man’s symptoms and move him into isolation away from other at-risk patients.

The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/AP)

The unnamed relative told the Guardian: “We think they should have put him into isolation right away, as soon as he arrived, given his symptoms.

“That was a failure by the hospital. He was coughing a lot and had quite severe symptoms.”

They said the family was told the man had died an hour after they were informed of his coronavirus diagnosis, before which he had been visited by a lot of relatives on a ward.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said work was already under way to establish who the man had come into contact with.

Japanese authorities previously admitted their handling of the Diamond Princess’s quarantine was flawed.

More than a quarter of the 2,600 people on board – around 700 passengers – eventually became infected.

On board the Grand Princess, Jackie Bissell, from Dartford in Kent, said passengers had been given little information on what will happen next.

“We are waiting for the ship’s captain – but I think he’s as much in the dark as we are and he’s said he’s only giving us information as and when he gets it,” she told Radio 4’s Today Programme on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Lisa Egan, whose 90-year-old father is on board, called for the ship to be evacuated.

Empty shelves where toilet roll is usually stocked in Edgware, north west London, amid rising numbers of people testing positive for coronavirus in the UK (Ian Jones/PA)

She told the Telegraph newspaper: “Keeping people on board is going to be a death sentence for many.”

A spokesman for Princess Cruises, which owns the Grand Princess, said it was working with US authorities and awaiting a plan for the ship’s future positioning.

US President Donald Trump appeared to suggest he wanted to see the ship remain off the coast to keep country’s infection numbers down.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday as officials prepare to accelerate work on the delay phase of the government’s plan.

Sports governing bodies and broadcasters have also been called to a Government meeting on Monday to discuss how to handle the outbreak’s possible impact on the sporting calendar.

Meanwhile, PHE has said people may need to help older relatives and neighbours obtain food supplies if social distancing measures, such as as not going to cinemas, pubs or sporting events, are put in place.