FILE - Carrying multiple people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the Grand Princess maintains a holding pattern about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, Sunday, March 8, 2020. (NOAH BERGER/AP PHOTO)

COVID-19 stricken ship with 237 Canadians on board pulls into California port

Passengers lining the balconies waved and some left the cabins to go onto deck

The cruise ship forced to idle for days off the coast of California because of a cluster of coronavirus cases aboard arrived in port Monday as state and U.S. officials prepared to transfer its thousands of passengers to military bases for quarantine or return them to their home countries.

The Grand Princess pulled into the Port of Oakland with more than 3,500 people aboard — 21 infected with the new virus. Passengers lining the balconies waved and some left the cabins where they had been in isolation to go onto deck as the ship entered the port near San Francisco.

How many travellers will get off the ship Monday wasn’t clear; the captain told them that not everyone would. U.S. passengers will be flown or bused from the port — chosen for its proximity to an airport and a military base — to bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and a 14-day quarantine. The ship is carrying people from 54 countries, and foreigners will be whisked home.

About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

ALSO READ: Feds secure plane to bring Canadians home from coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess

The virus has infected 600 people in the U.S., and at least 25 have died, most in Washington state. Cases worldwide have topped 111,000 and over 3,800 people have died, the bulk of them in China. More than 62,000 people have already recovered.

Italy became the latest country to lock down a region in an attempt to prevent the virus from spreading, and a combination of coronavirus fears and plunging oil prices sent stocks on Wall Street plummeting Monday.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said communities will need to start thinking about cancelling large gatherings, closing schools and letting more employees work from home, as many companies have done in the Seattle area amid an outbreak at a care home that has killed 17.

Several universities have begun online-only courses, including the University of Washington, Stanford University and Columbia University. The largest school district in Northern California, with 64,000 students, cancelled classes for a week when it was discovered a family in the district was exposed to COVID-19.

The Grand Princess had been held off the coast since Wednesday amid evidence it was the breeding ground for infections tied to a previous voyage.

Passengers from the previous voyage have tested positive in California and other states. Six Canadians who were on the Grand Princess from Feb. 11 to 21 were confirmed to have the virus.

As it pulled closer to the Bay Area, Grand Princess passenger Karen Schwartz Dever said “everyone was hollering and clapping as we entered the harbour.”

ALSO READ: Canada’s top doctor warns against travelling on cruise ships over COVID-19

Another passenger, Laurie Miller of San Jose, said they were told that anyone who was getting off Monday had already received a written notice and luggage tags.

“Not us!” she said in a message. “This is an absolute circus.”

The California governor and Oakland mayor sought to reassure people that none of the cruise ship passengers would be exposed to the public before completing the quarantine. Officials also were trying to decide where the ship and its crew would go next.

“That ship will turn around — and they are currently assessing appropriate places to bring that quarantined ship — but it will not be here in the San Francisco Bay,” Gov. Newsom said.

Meanwhile, another cruise ship, the Regal Princess, pulled into a Florida port late Sunday after being held off the state’s coast for hours while awaiting coronavirus test results for two crew members, who did not have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The State Department warned against travel on cruise ships because of “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”

Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.

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Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

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Olga R. Rodriguez And Daisy Nguyen, The Associated Press

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