Donald Trump has revealed plans to allow British passengers trapped on a coronavirus-infected cruise ship where four people have died to return home.
More than 200 UK nationals have been left stranded after an outbreak of COVID-19on the Zaandam cruise ship, which has been refused permission to dock in the US.
Four passengers have died on the cruise ship, including 75-year-old British man John Carter whose widow has been isolated and on her own since his death.
Mr Carter’s family have since pleaded with the US president and Florida authorities to allow the ship to dock.
In a White House briefing on Wednesday, Mr Trump confirmed plans to repatriate British passengers onboard the Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam, which is carrying those without coronavirus-symptoms.
“We’re looking at the two ships,” he said.
“We have Canada notified. A lot of Canadians, a lot of British on the ship.
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“They’re coming to take the people that are on the ship back to their homeland. Canada is coming. The UK is coming.
“We have some people who are quite sick and we’re taking care of that. I’m speaking to the governor about that a lot. It’s a tough situation.”
Mr Trump added: “You can understand you have people that are sick on those ships and states – they have enough problems right now – don’t want to take them. We have to from a humane standpoint.
“We don’t have a choice. I don’t want to do that but we have to. People are dying.”
Asked if the passengers would be allowed into the US, Mr Trump replied: “We’re going to do something.
“At a minimum we’re sending medical teams on board the ships. We’re taking the Canadians off and giving them to Canadian authorities. They’re going to take them back home. The same thing with the UK.
“We have to help the people. They’re in big trouble, no matter where they’re from.”
Almost 200 people have fallen ill on board the Zaandam and there are nine confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Two of the four people who died were confirmed to have the virus.
In a plea to Mr Trump, the family of Mr Carter said they have only had minimal contact with his widow as her mobile phone is no longer working.
“She is struggling to eat the limited meals and is feeling unwell,” they said.
“She is obviously distressed and extremely frightened.
The family added that it was “imperative” that the docking is authorised so that the passengers and crew can receive “the urgent assistance that they so desperately need”.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis had said the state’s health care system is stretched too thin to take on the ships’ coronavirus cases, but he would accept the Florida residents on board.
“My concern is simply that we have worked so hard to make sure we have adequate hospital beds,” he said.
The Zaandam and the Rotterdam, which are owned by cruise operator Holland America, passed through the Panama Canal on Monday and were seeking to dock in Florida later this week.
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The Zaandam originally departed from Buenos Aires in Argentina on 7 March, a day before the US State Department advised against cruise travel and before any substantial restrictions were in place in Florida.
The ship had been scheduled to stop in San Antonio, Chile, then complete another 20-day cruise to arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 7 April.
But since 15 March, the Zaandam has assumed pariah-like status, having been denied entry at a succession of ports.