Two cruise ships carrying passengers infected with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, docked Thursday in Florida after more than two weeks stranded at sea.
The Zaandam and its sister vessel, the Rotterdam, which was sent to help it, were allowed to dock at Port Everglades after being turned away from 11 countries since its last stop in South America on March 14.
It came after days of negotiation with local officials who were initially hesitant to allow the Holland America cruise ships dock, fearing that disembarking passengers would overwhelm the limited medical resources in a region that has seen a spike in CCP virus cases.
Four male passengers over the age of 70 died aboard the coronavirus-stricken cruise ship—two after contracting COVID-19, one from a heart attack, and one from a preexisting illness. A further 13 passengers and a crew member were severely ill upon arrival, according to port documents. A docking plan released Thursday stated that 26 passengers and 50 crew members were symptomatic.
The Rotterdam, which was sent to assist the Zaandam cruise ship while it was in Panama to transfer some healthy passengers onboard, also reported that passengers were unwell by the time it reached Florida. It took on took on about two-thirds of the Zaandam’s passengers who passed a medical check.
There were 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam, and 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam.
At Port Everglades, critically ill passengers were immediately met by medical personnel who transported them to area hospitals. The unwell passengers remain under quarantine on the Zaandam, which first set sail from Buenos Aires on March 7.
In a statement before the ships docked, Holland America said that passengers from both the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, who have no symptoms of the virus, would be transferred immediately onto charter flights to their home states or countries.
“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,” Holland America said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis initially said he did not want to see the passengers “dumped in Southern Florida right now,” fearing that infected passengers would divert much needed medical resources as cases in the state spike.
President Donald Trump on Monday urged DeSantis to let the Zaandam dock in the state, saying “they’re dying on the ship.”
DeSantis on Wednesday agreed to let the ships dock. Many of the passengers are U.S. citizens and about 50 of them are Floridians. Canadians, Brits, and Australians were among other nationals aboard.
The nation’s top infectious disease officials also urged Florida to quickly allow passengers off the cruise ships to curb further transmission of the CCP virus onboard.
DeSantis agreed to allow the ships to dock on Thursday, saying at a news conference, “I think the accommodations have been made, and I think that things are going to be done very thoughtfully.
“It’s going to be a very controlled exit from these ships.”
Excited and Relieved
“We just disembarked and are in a charter vehicle heading home,” Florida resident Laura Gabaroni, one of the first passengers to disembark, told The Guardian.
She said she and her husband were “excited and relieved” to be on their way home.
“We are also happy to hear that our fellow passengers who needed medical attention are getting the treatment to help their recovery.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.