Donald Trump announces plans to fly stranded Brits on coronavirus cruise ship home
2 April 2020, 08:50
Stranded British passengers on board a cruise ship struck by coronavirus are set to be flown home, US President Donald Trump has said.
The US leader confirmed that arrangements had been made with the UK Government to repatriate Britons aboard two vessels set to dock in Florida.
Four people aboard the Zaandam ship have died, with at least two of them being confirmed to have died after contracting coronavirus.
One of those four was 75-year-old British man John Carter, whose widow, who is also on the vessel, has been forced to self-isolate since his death.
There are roughly 200 UK nationals on the Zaandam which has nine confirmed cases of Covid-19, while a couple of hundred have reported flu-like symptoms.
Healthy passengers on board the boat were offloaded to its sister-ship, the Rotterdam, earlier this week. Both have been denied entry to ports in several countries.
Local authorities in Florida were reluctant to accept the ships as the state's healthcare system has already been put under significant strain by a growing coronavirus outbreak.
But on Wednesday, Mr Trump said the US had no choice but to let the vessels dock, allowing those aboard to disembark and make their ways home.
It follows Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab's comments on Monday where he said the UK Government was "determined to help Britons stranded abroad" and that it would "work with British Airways to keeps flights running, so travelling Brits can get back to the UK."
Speaking at the daily White House coronavirus briefing, President Trump said: "It's a tough situation you know. You can understand you have people that are sick on the ships and states don't want to take (them). They have enough problems right now.
"They don't want to take them. But we have to, from a humane standpoint. We don't have a choice. I don't want to do that but we have to. People are dying."
The family of the deceased John Carter pleaded for the US leader and Floridian officials to allow the ships to dock so that passengers and crew members can receive "the urgent assistance that they so desperately need."
In a statement, the family said Mr Carter's widow urgently required assistance.
"She is struggling to eat the limited meals and is feeling unwell," the family said.
"She is obviously distressed and extremely frightened.
"They were both in good health and did not foresee the terrible situation that has arisen. John became unwell aboard the ship and passed away on the 22nd March, 2020."
A dispute had been raging before Mr Trump's intervention; Michael Udine, the commissioner of Broward County, Florida, where the ships had been denied entry, urged his government to step in.
He said: "Decisions with international implications should not be left to local officials to make piecemeal solutions during a global crisis.
"We need experts from the CDC and Fema to do their jobs and outline a plan that takes the passengers out of limbo and does not play politics."
Whereas Florida governor Ron DeSantis had told a news conference his state's health resources had already been stretched too far to take on the Zaandam's unhealthy passengers.
"Just to drop people off at the place where we're having the highest number of cases right now just doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he said.
It comes as authorities in Mexico allowed 46 British citizens to disembark from another cruise ship off its Caribbean coast and fly home on Wednesday.