Federal government trying to bring 248 Canadians home from coronavirus-infected cruise

More than 200 Canadians remain stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of Panama where some passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 and four others have died.

The federal government is working with the Panamanian government and Holland America, which operates the Zaandam, in an effort to get 248 Canadians home.

Two passengers on board the MS Zaandam have tested positive for the disease while 53 guests and 85 crew have flu-like symptoms, Holland America said in a statement.

READ MORE: 4 dead on cruise ship stranded near Panama, 247 Canadians also on board

There are 1,243 passengers and 586 crew on board, the company said in a statement. The Zaandam is anchored off the coast of Panama and plans are underway to move healthy people to its sister ship nearby, Holland America said.

“We continue to engage with the Panamanian government, and are working with Holland America on their plans to get passengers home,” said Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Angela Savard.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Saturday that Global Affairs was “single-mindedly” focused on what he called the “Herculean” task of bringing Canadians home who remain stuck on the cruise ship.

“Much of it involves negotiating with other countries to get permissions for cruise ships to dock, permissions for airplanes to lift off from their country when they’ve closed the airspaces,” he said.

2:00Home sweet home: Lethbridge couple in quarantine after cruise ordeal

Home sweet home: Lethbridge couple in quarantine after cruise ordeal

Michael Kasprow is terrified for his 81-year-old mother, Julie, who is currently contained to her room with her friend on the Zaandam. She is healthy, he said, and had her vital signs checked yesterday.

“My mom’s demeanour certainly changed in the past 24 hours from, ‘This will be OK,’ to hearing news that people on board had passed away,” Kasprow said.

“My mom is my superhero and is incredibly circumspect when it comes to things like that, but it’s really stressful and scary to her, and this definitely rocked her a bit.”

The crew is preparing to move his mother to the sister ship, the Rotterdam, he said.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Why quarantining passengers on a cruise ship was a bad idea

“From what I understand, they are going to move healthy and asymptomatic passengers over to the Rotterdam to find some place to dock,” Kasprow said.

All ports along its route are closed, Holland America said.

“While the onward plan for both ships is still being finalized, we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities on approval to transit the Panama Canal for sailing to Fort Lauderdale, Florida,” the company said.

Kasprow, from Toronto, said he is dealing with a mixture of emotions with the uncertainty about his mother, who lives in Thornhill, Ont.

1:32Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick sees spike of COVID-19 cases tied to cruise travel

Coronavirus outbreak: New Brunswick sees spike of COVID-19 cases tied to cruise travel

“I just want her home in her stupid chair for 14 days so we have everybody in the same area and I can talk to her from the end of the driveway,” he said.

Meanwhile, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer has delivered a sobering assessment of the country’s struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Howard Njoo said the fight is far from over, that it could include a second wave, and that we are certainly in it “for the long haul.”

“It’s definitely months. Many months,” Njoo estimated Friday as the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada surged to 4,757, including 55 deaths.

READ MORE: Coronavirus RNA detected on cruise ship 17 days after passengers left: CDC report

Quebec’s COVID-19 caseload has soared to more than 2,000 — more than double Ontario’s 993 cases.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been told by chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance to stay healthy and be ready to respond immediately to the escalating crisis.

One possible glimmer of hope did emerge from B.C. Friday, where data indicates the province’s COVID experience will likely resemble South Korea’s rather than brutally hit Italy. B.C.’s health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said she thinks the social distancing strategy is working and she urged residents to keep at it.

— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun

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