A cruise ship that’s been floating off the coast of California for days amid coronavirus concerns is set to dock in Oakland today, setting the stage for Ottawa to bring the 237 Canadians aboard the Grand Princess back home.
Global Affairs Canada announced late yesterday that it had chartered a plane to fly the stranded Canadians to the air force base in Trenton, though it did not provide a timeline for when that would happen.
There are 21 people diagnosed with COVID-19 aboard the Grand Princess, which is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries. There’s no word on the nationalities of the patients.
The ship had been forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence the vessel was the breeding ground for a cluster of at least 20 cases, including one death, after a previous voyage. Several people in Canada aboard that earlier voyage have since tested positive for the illness.
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Those currently on the Grand Princess will be screened for symptoms before they board the plane, and the passengers who exhibit them will stay in the U.S. for further assessment. Passengers without any symptoms will be quarantined for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada, the government said.
“We are working hard to help Canadians return home and make sure appropriate measures are in place to prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a written statement.
“The decision to repatriate Canadians on board the Grand Princess follows a request for assistance from the government of the United States, recognizing the importance of closely working together to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
Ottawa has recommended against cruise ship vacations in the wake of the international COVID-19 outbreak, saying the frequent interaction and close quarters on board serve as a breeding ground for the virus.
Last month, 129 Canadians and their families were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, where they had been confined to their cabins as the vessel was docked in Yokohama.
That ship saw upwards of 600 people diagnosed with COVID-19, including 47 Canadians who couldn’t be evacuated with their countrymen. The outbreak was, at the time, the largest cluster of cases outside of mainland China, though it’s since been surpassed many times over.
There are now more than 100,000 cases worldwide, with the largest group still in China. But massive outbreaks have developed outside the virus’s epicentre, including in South Korea, Iran and Italy.
In Canada over the weekend, the case count climbed past 60, with 32 diagnoses in Ontario, 27 in British Columbia, two in Quebec and one in Alberta. Several other cases are considered “presumptive” and have to be confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg before they are added to the official list.