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Passengers on cruise ship off California await coronavirus test results

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San Francisco (AFP)

Passengers and crew on a giant cruise ship being held off the coast of San Francisco were Friday waiting on the results of tests to determine if any of the 3,500 people on board have the new coronavirus.

The California National Guard flew in test kits to the Grand Princess on Thursday, and the findings were expected to be announced early Friday.

Princess Cruises said in a statement samples had been taken from 45 people, a mix of guests and team members -- and all passengers had been confined to their quarters pending the outcome.

The ship is being prevented from docking while the results are due.

"We have big news on the ship," President Donald Trump told reporters at a morning briefing where he signed into law $8.3 billion in emergency funding that was set aside by Congress to fight the disease.

"I just spoke to the governor of California Gavin Newsom, we just had a good conversation. We're working on the ship together," he added.

Carolyn Wright, a passenger, told AFP the captain announced Thursday evening that there were "no confirmed cases of coronavirus" and that final results would be released the following day.

Health officials sounded the alarm after two passengers who had been on board during a previous voyage between San Francisco and Mexico later fell ill and one of them died.

Several other passengers who had remained on the vessel for its next voyage to Hawaii also developed flu-like symptoms during that trip.

Princess Cruises said there were 3,533 people currently onboard, including 2,422 passengers and 1,111 crew. In total, they represent 54 nationalities.

Wright said there was no panic on board and people seemed to be taking the setback in their stride.

"I can't get over how the news is sensationalizing our ship," said the 63-year-old professional photographer from New Mexico who was traveling with a friend.

"There were two cases on the previous cruise and they act like everybody on board has the plague

Ellen Carroll, the head of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management once test results are back, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California state officials will determine the most appropriate location for the ship to berth.

"The location needs to provide for the safety of the surrounding community, as well as the passengers and crew," she said. "The CDC and the state are considering a number of locations, including San Francisco."

Princess Cruises is the same company which operated the Diamond Princess -- the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month from which more than 700 people tested positive and six died.

Worldwide, more than 3,000 people have died from the fast-spreading virus that has infected more than 100,000 people in some 85 countries.

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