The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it is following up reports three crew members on the coronavirus-infected cruise ship Grand Princess are New Zealanders.

Twenty-one people aboard the cruise ship, which is being held off the coast of California, have tested positive for coronavirus, US vice president Mike Pence announced late Saturday morning (NZ time).

Nineteen of them are crew members, he said.

An MFAT spokeswoman told the Herald it has not been contacted by any New Zealanders who may be on board but it confirmed it was investgating reports three of the ship's crew are Kiwis.

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Eight New Zealand passengers previously on board the cruise ship may have been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.

The ministry was on Friday notified by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that the eight had been on the cruise ship with a confirmed Covid-19 case, but had returned to New Zealand before receiving the notice.

"Upon receipt of this information, public health officials in New Zealand have spoken to seven of the eight affected this afternoon and have completed health interviews," the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

"Four people are well and are outside the isolation period and they pose no risk of Covid-19. Three people have been assessed as needing to be tested.

"One of those three was already in medical care at North Shore Hospital and appropriate testing and public health actions are under way."

As of Friday evening, one person was still to be spoken to. The ministry was tracing close contacts of this person as a precaution including some health care staff.

The Herald has approached the ministry for comment on today's news.

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Pence said the US government was working with California officials on a plan to bring the ship to a non-commercial port this weekend and the 3500 passengers and crew members would be tested for the virus.

The test results come amid evidence the vessel was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of at least 10 cases during its previous voyage.

AP earlier reported on Thursday (US time), a military helicopter crew lowered test kits onto the 290m Grand Princess by rope and later retrieved them for analysis as the vessel waited off San Francisco, under orders to keep its distance from shore.

Health officials reported a passenger on a previous voyage of the ship, in February, died of the disease.

In the past few days, health authorities disclosed at least nine other people who were on the same journey were also found to be infected.

And some passengers on that trip stayed aboard for the current voyage.

"The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers," California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday.

Another Princess cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately about 700 of the 3700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure, as the vessel essentially became a floating germ factory.

An epidemiologist who studies the spread of virus particles said the recirculated air from a cruise ship's ventilation system, plus the close quarters and communal settings, made passengers vulnerable to infectious diseases.

"They're not designed as quarantine facilities, to put it mildly," said Don Milton, of the University of Maryland.

"You're going to amplify the infection by keeping people on the boat."

He said whether tests confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Grand Princess, the fallout from the ship quarantined in Japan demonstrated the urgent need to move people off the ship.

"My advice is to get people off and into a safer quarantine environment than a cruise ship," Milton said.

Michele Smith, a Grand Princess passenger, posted video on Facebook of the helicopter that arrived at the ship.

Another video showed a crew member wearing gloves and a mask and spraying and wiping a handrail.

"We have crews constantly cleaning our ship," Smith was heard saying.

In a post, Smith said she and her husband were not quarantined and were told only the people who had been on the Mexico voyage or those showing flu-like symptoms had to isolate themselves.

"Spirits are as high as can be under these circumstances. We are blessed to be healthy, comfortable and well-fed," she wrote.

In a late-night statement, the cruise line said all guests were asked to stay in their rooms while the test results were awaited, in keeping with guidelines.

- AP