At least 500 Filipino crew members were among the thousands stranded on a cruise ship off the California coast over fears of the new coronavirus after passengers and crew members on board developed symptoms.
Local recruitment firm Magsaysay People Resources Corp. said tests are being conducted on passengers and crew who may have contracted the disease.
US officials delayed the return of the Grand Princess to San Francisco on Wednesday night from Hawaii 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.
The ship’s return from its current voyage was being delayed to allow “ample timing” for testing of “a number of passengers and crew members that have developed symptoms,” Newsom told a press conference.
Eleven passengers and 10 crew members were potentially infected with the virus, Newsom said.
“So we’re holding that ship, which (has) thousands of passengers as well, off the coast, and we’ll be conducting those tests,” he added.
Around 62 passengers who remained on board from the earlier Mexico voyage were restricted to their rooms for testing, the Princess Cruises company said in a statement to AFP. It was not specified if they were among those displaying symptoms.
The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, the same company which operated the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month on which more than 700 people on board tested positive.
At least six people who were hospitalized after being taken off the Diamond Princess have died.
Meanwhile, the United States has earmarked $37 million worth of financial assistance to the so-called “high priority” countries, including the Philippines, to bankroll programs aimed at combating COVID-19.
READ: Virus engulfs six continents
The US Agency for International Development said the money came from USAID’s Emergency Reserve Fund for Contagious Infectious Diseases.
In a statement, USAID said the $37 million will be provided to the World Health Organization, other multilateral institutions, and programs led by USAID’s implementing partners.
In particular, the funds allocated for WHO will be used to help the governments of currently affected or at-risk developing countries prepare their laboratories for large-scale testing for COVID-19, implement a public-health emergency plan for points of entry, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance for influenza-like illnesses, train and equip rapid-response teams, investigate cases and trace the contacts of infected people, and adapt training materials for health workers on COVID-19.
As of March 4, there have been three cases of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, and they are all Chinese citizens.
In related developments:
The Hong Kong Health department has informed the Philippine Consulate General that a third Filipino had tested positive for COVID-19.
In a statement, the Consulate General said the patient, a woman, was in isolation and undergoing tests.
*A Foreign Affairs official said Thursday Filipinos from coronavirus-stricken Macau were likely to be repatriated to the Philippines before the weekend.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said 148 Filipinos, mostly migrant workers, tourists, and undocumented workers will board a chartered flight to the Philippines.
*Saudi Arabia has implemented a temporary travel ban on citizens from several countries, including the Philippines, in a move to keep the COVID-19 from entering the kingdom.
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