Three Kiwis are onboard a Princess Cruises ship that recently carried people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
This ship was being held in waters off California late Wednesday as officials sent kits to test passengers and crew who were showing symptoms of the illness.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, said during a news conference that he had asked that the Grand Princess, which left San Francisco on Feb. 21 for a voyage to Hawaii, avoid returning to the state until testing could be completed.
On Wednesday night, he said 21 people - 11 passengers and 10 crew members - were symptomatic and would be prioritised for testing, along with those who sailed on the previous voyage to Mexico with those who later became sick.
"That number may significantly understate," he said. "It may indeed be an abundance of caution."
A spokesperson for Carnival Australia, which owns and operates the Princess Cruises told the Herald that there are three New Zealand citizens on board the Grand Princess. They are all crew members.
However, Carnival could not say if they were among those waiting to be tested for Covid-19.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that it "has not been contacted by any New Zealanders in relation to this," and was not aware of any New Zealanders among the 2500 passengers.
Overnight, the cruise line said the testing kits were expected to be delivered Thursday morning via helicopter. Once samples are collected on board, they will be sent to a lab in Richmond, California, also by helicopter.
"Public health officials have advised that no guests will be permitted to disembark until all results have been received," Princess Cruises said in a statement. "Out of an abundance of caution, all guests who have been identified for testing have been asked to remain in their staterooms."
The cruise line said Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was investigating a "small cluster" of cases of the virus among people in Northern California who took a cruise on the Grand Princess from San Francisco to Mexico between Feb. 11 and 21. It did not say how many people were included in that cluster, and the CDC did not respond to questions late Wednesday.
Princess Cruises also owns the Diamond Princess, which spent much of February quarantined in Japan. More than 700 people who were on that ship were infected and seven have died.
Health departments in Placer and Sonoma counties in Northern California each announced one case of the virus among people who were on the voyage in recent days; one of those people has since died, Placer County Public Health said Wednesday, the first coronavirus-related death in California.
Officials in Placer County said that person's "exposure likely occurred during international travel on a Princess cruise ship that departed from San Francisco to Mexico - the same Feb. 11-21 cruise associated with a confirmed Sonoma County case announced previously." The cruise line confirmed that the person who died was a 71-year-old man.
Newsom said state officials were working with the CDC and health-care partners statewide to contact people who were on the manifest for the Mexico sailing, and that federal authorities were working to get in touch with those from outside the state.
Princess Cruises said Wednesday it was cancelling its Thursday stop in Ensenada, Mexico, to return to the United States. Initially, the line said the plan was to return to San Francisco on Thursday, but Newsom said it would have arrived Wednesday night had he not intervened.
"The CDC is continuing to actively collect information and is collaborating with us to determine what, if any, actions need to be taken during the current Hawaii cruise and upon the ship's return to San Francisco," the cruise line said in a statement. "We have shared essential travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate their standard notification to the state and county health authorities in order to follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to the people who became ill."
Sixty-two people on the Hawaii cruise also sailed to Mexico with the passengers who later tested positive, according to the operator. Earlier Wednesday, the cruise line told those passengers and some crew to stay in their rooms until screened by medical staff on the ship.
"You may order room service while you wait for the medical screening to be completed, and we apologise for any inconvenience," the line told passengers in an advisory that it also posted online.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health said the U.S. Coast Guard and CDC are working with the cruise line and passengers, but said local authorities were also making "all the necessary arrangements to receive the Grand Princess."
Late Wednesday, Newsom said state officials would work closely with the CDC and Coast Guard on establishing protocols for the ship's return.
"We'll provide as much time as needed to secure the safety of everybody on board, secure their health, and then more broadly the community," he said.
He added during the nearly hour-long news conference that it wasn't clear where the ship would eventually end up.
"The question is where do they arrive," Newsom said. "There may be new protocols and procedures that send the ship to another location."
Princess Cruises said Thursday morning it is cancelling the next sailing for Grand Princess, a Hawaii cruise that was supposed to leave from San Francisco on March 7. All passengers will get a full refund of the fare they paid plus any other prepaid expenses and airfare they booked through the cruise line.
- With additional staff reporting