UK nationals flying home after being trapped on cruise liners in Florida
UK nationals who were trapped on board two cruise liners embroiled in a bitter coronavirus dispute are flying back to the UK.
Holland America Line guests disembarked the Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam in Florida, US, on Friday following a battle between federal and state authorities.
Many of the 200 UK nationals caught up in the saga boarded a charter flight which departed Fort Lauderdale airport shortly after 3am on Saturday (local time).
The flight is due to land at London Heathrow at around 4.30pm (BST).
Messages posted on a Facebook group created for passengers to share updates state that some people have not been allowed to fly home yet.
Holland America Line had previously said guests with coronavirus symptoms “will remain on board and disembark at a later date”.
Charter flights are also repatriating guests to Toronto, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris and Frankfurt, according to US news website Business Insider.
More than a dozen Covid-19 cases were reported on the Zaandam, plus some 190 people with flu symptoms.
Four people have died aboard the Zaandam, including two officially diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the ship offloaded its healthy passengers onto the Rotterdam.
Florida officials were reluctant to allow the ships to dock – for fear that taking more Covid-19 patients would further burden the state’s already-stretched hospitals – until US president Donald Trump intervened to approve the docking on humanitarian grounds.
The four included 75-year-old Briton John Carter, who died on March 22. His cause of death has yet to be officially revealed, but he was reported to have been on a ventilator in his last days.
The Zaandam, which began its cruise in Buenos Aires on March 7, was refused entry to several Latin American ports after its coronavirus cases emerged.
On Friday, passengers from both ships were finally allowed to touch dry land in Fort Lauderdale.
Fourteen critically-ill patients were wheeled off the Zaandam on stretchers to be taken to local hospitals before their fellow passengers disembarked.
Asymptomatic patients, after being screened and cleared by paramedics, were taken by bus directly to the local airport, escorted by police officers on motorcycles.
Before disembarking from the ships, passengers received instructions to wear face masks at all times when travelling and to go immediately into 14 days of self-quarantine when they arrived home.