A cruise ship which has been floating at sea carrying passengers with suspected coronavirus after it was turned away from South American ports has finally been given permission to dock in Florida.
The Zaandam and sister ship the Rotterdam, which was sent to help it, were given the green light to disembark people at Port Everglades after days of negotiation with local officials.
Passengers have not been able to step on dry land for almost three weeks.
Four elderly people died on the Zaandam – including a British man – and at least two from COVID-19 – according to William Burke, chief maritime officer for Carnival Corp., which owns the ships.
Earlier this week, he said nine people had tested positive for the virus.
There were 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam, and 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam.
An elderly British couple aboard the Zaandam previously issued a desperate plea to the United States to allow the vessel to dock.
Tony and Jennie Wills from Earls Barton in Northamptonshire, spoke out after the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signalled he did not want the vessel’s passengers and crew dumped on his doorstep.
“This is a real humanitarian crisis and we appeal, we pray, we implore America, all the governments around the world, please America, please let us land somewhere,” Mrs Wills, 74, said in a video message shared with Sky News.
“Please, please, we just so all want to come home. This is on behalf of absolutely everybody on board the two ships.”
Her husband, 80, had previously said information from the captain and the cruise operator, Holland America Line, had been poor.
Mr Willis added: “We are obviously realising there is a hell of a lot more illness on this boat than we ever realised and we are getting very, very worried. We need to get off.”
Mr DeSantis previously told a news conference: “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.”
However, speaking at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing, President Trump said he would ask the governor to allow the ships to dock in Florida, saying: “They’re dying on the ship.
“I’m going to do what’s right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”
Holland America has said 45 passengers who were mildly sick would stay on board until they recovered, but that it needed 10 people to be taken to a Fort Lauderdale hospital for immediate medical care.
Broward County Commissioner, Michael Udine, said the agreement only allowed for fewer than five people to be taken to a hospital.
Mr DeSantis said passengers and crew who have no symptoms would be taken to airports by bus, but would not be allowed inside the terminals, and instead would directly board planes.
“You can’t just release them into the general public if they have been exposed,” he said.
Holland America has said that guests fit for travel under guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control would transfer “straight from the ship to flights for onward travel home, the majority on charter flights”.
In a statement, it said: “Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitized, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks.”
Guests have not left the ship since 14 March, and have self-isolated in their cabins since 22 March.
The Zaandam set sail from Buenos Aires on 7 March, and was originally scheduled to end the first leg of the voyage at San Antonio, Chile, on 21 March, before departing again for Fort Lauderdale.
The cruise was stranded off the coast of Panama after it was not allowed to dock in Chile and other ports along its path.