Grand Princess passengers to disembark, crew to stay on board

The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives in San Francisco from Hawaii. Credit: Scott Strazzante/AP

The 1,100-strong crew on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)-hit cruise ship Grand Princess will be quarantined and treated on board, while the 2,400 or so passengers will disembark at the US Port of Oakland sometime on 9 March 2020 for subsequent testing and isolation and, if necessary, repatriation.

This comes after 21 crew and passengers on Grand Princess tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. US Vice-President Mike Pence has declared that all 3,500-plus crew and passengers will have to be tested.

The Grand Princess was isolated 10 miles (16 km) off the coast of San Francisco, after arriving from Hawaii on 5 March 2020, after it transpired that a former passenger died of COVID-19 in California. Symptomatic passengers and crew, numbering under 100, were tested using kits that the US Coast Guard helicoptered to the ship.

In a statement sent to SAS, Princess Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corporation, confirmed that the disembarkation process of guests from Grand Princess is expected to begin in the Oakland port on 9 March 2020, California time.

In a press conference on 8 March 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that Oakland was picked for a number of reasons, including its proximity to a commercial airport to facilitate evacuations and repatriations for foreign nationals on Grand Princess.

The Canadian government said on 8 March that it has chartered a plane to evacuate its nationals from Grand Princess.

Guests who are seriously unwell and require immediate medical attention will be given top priority to disembark. A medical team had boarded the ship on 8 March to assess the guests’ physical condition.

Californian residents, who make up nearly half of the passengers, will be the next group given priority to leave the ship. They will be tested and quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield and Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego.

Non-Californian US citizens will be transported to Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia for testing and quarantine. Grand Princess passengers who are foreigners will be repatriated on chartered flights.

Princess Cruises said, “To avoid delays, testing will be conducted when guests arrive at their onward destination. Once disembarkation of the guests is completed, the crew will remain on board and Grand Princess will depart from San Francisco Bay. Plans for a crew quarantine are still being determined.”

It is the second such incident to befall Princess Cruises, after more than 700 passengers and crew caught COVID-19 on Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off Japan’s Yokohama port from 5 to 19 February 2020. The latter cluster was traced to a former passenger, a Hong Kong man, who tested positive after disembarking from an earlier voyage. Six of the Diamond Princess passengers have since died.

Princess Cruises said, “The safety, health, and wellbeing of our guests and crew is always our top priority, and we continue to make every effort to ensure they are safe and comfortable while they remain on board.”

The company said that from its recent experience in Japan, it has mobilised a team to procure prescription medication for passengers. Princess Cruises has also obtained approval from the US Centers of Disease Control for a rotation schedule to allow passengers fresh air and sunlight while maintaining social distances.

Newsom said that once all the passengers disembark, the ship will turn around and exit Oakland, to be docked outside San Francisco Bay for the crew to begin their quarantine.

He said, “This entire operation … is a two-to-three-day process. This is what we think the turnaround to take. That’s based on our preparation.”