US President Donald Trump said arrangements had been made with the UK Government to evacuate British passengers on two cruise ships set to soon dock in Florida after being hit by the coronavirus.
Four people have died aboard the cruise ship Zaandam, including 75-year-old British man John Carter, whose widow has been isolated on board since his death.
The couple were among 200 Britons on the ship, which has recorded nine confirmed cases of Covid-19 and has some 200 people on board who have reported flu-like symptoms.
The Zaandam offloaded its healthy passengers onto its sister-ship, the Rotterdam, earlier this week, with both vessels having been denied entry to ports in several countries.
The cruise liners are seeking to dock in Florida but have become embroiled in a dispute, with local authorities reluctant to take more patients into a state healthcare system already stretched by the coronavirus outbreak.
However, Mr Trump said on Wednesday there was no choice but to allow the ships to dock and for those aboard to disembark.
The Associated Press reported Mr Trump had confirmed arrangements had been made with the UK to repatriate British passengers.
This was in keeping with comments this week from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that the 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, Mr 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 latest development regarding the two Florida-bound ships come as authorities in Mexico allowed 46 British citizens to disembark from another cruise ship off its Caribbean coast and fly home on Wednesday.
It also came after Mr Carter’s family pleaded for Mr Trump and Florida officials to allows the two ships to dock so that passengers and crew 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 Humanitarian Crisis: Response to Cruise Ships Stranded at Sea Tests Our Deepest Human Values by Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford >> https://t.co/GeBvynhRpl#HALStronghttps://t.co/94N7LHNUH0
— Holland America Line (@HALcruises) March 30, 2020
Before Mr Trump’s comments on Wednesday, local authorities in Broward County, Florida, one of the locations the ship has been denied permission to dock, had urged the US government to intervene in the case.
Michael Udine, commissioner of Broward County, 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.”
Florida governor Ron DeSantis told a news conference on Tuesday that the state’s healthcare resources were already stretched too thin by the coronavirus outbreak to take on the Zaandam’s caseload.
“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.