Four Aussies stuck on coronavirus cruise ship
Thousands of people, including four Australians, have been stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of California after several passengers and crew developed coronavirus symptoms.
The Grand Princess was scheduled to travel from Hawaii to Mexico on Thursday, and then on to San Francisco, but has now been halted in order to carry out testing on board for those potentially infected.
A 71-year-old man who had been aboard the same vessel during its previous voyage to Mexico died after contracting the COVID-19 illness, becoming the first fatal case in California, the operator Princess Cruises and California Governor Gavin Newsom said.
A state of emergency has now been declared in California as health officials await the results.
"We are going to be flying testing kits to the cruise ship and we are going to be sending those quickly back to a lab in Richmond where we will test very quickly - within just a few hours - those samples to determine whether or not these individuals may have contracted the COVID-19 virus," Mr Newsom told a press conference.
The ship won't be allowed to dock until the test results are completed, he said.
Princess Cruises said fewer than 100 passengers and crew would be tested. They included people who had flu-like symptoms, as well as 62 passengers who stayed on board from the earlier Mexico voyage.
"Out of an abundance of caution, all guests who have been identified for testing have been asked to remain in their staterooms," it said.
People who travelled on the previous cruise have also been urged to contact their doctor if they develop fever or other symptoms.
Mr Newsom said 11 passengers and 10 crew members on the current cruise could potentially be infected with the virus.
Nine News reports 15 people are confirmed to have the infection.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a statement it was aware of four Australians on board.
The ship holds about 2500 passengers, plus crew, Mr Newsom said. According to the company's website, the vessel is manned by 1150 crew.
LINKS TO DIAMOND PRINCESS
The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, the same company that operated the coronavirus-stricken ship Diamond Princess held off Japan last month.
More than 3700 people were on that ship when it emerged a passenger who had disembarked in Hong Kong later tested positive for coronavirus.
The ship was immediately placed in lockdown, with all passengers required to stay mostly confined to their rooms for 14 days, but the virus continued to spread.
More than 620 cases of the disease were confirmed on board - including multiple Australians - leading to speculation the quarantine may have contributed to the spread.
Crew, for example, delivered food, water and medicine to passengers in their cabins - potentially exposing themselves to the virus and helping to spread it.
More than 160 Australians were eventually evacuated from the ship and then forced to undergo another two weeks of quarantine at a Howard Springs facility in Darwin.
Among the evacuees was WA man James Kwan, 78, the first Australian to die from the coronavirus.
In total, 10 people tested positive for the disease while quarantined at Howard Springs.
- With wires