Anxiety aboard US cruise ship as NY declares coronavirus emergency

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Passengers trapped aboard a US cruise ship, stranded by a coronavirus outbreak, spoke of their growing anxiety on Saturday as New York state announced a state of emergency over a spike in new cases.

One of the holidaymakers onboard the Grand Princess told AFP the captain announced early Saturday there was "still no word on when or where we will be docking."

Carolyn Wright, a professional photographer traveling with a friend, said passengers were earlier told it was unlikely the ship would dock on Saturday.

Authorities have said 21 people on the ship languishing 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of San Francisco tested positive for the new coronavirus -- 19 crew members and two passengers.

The fast-spreading virus has already killed 19 people in the United States, most of them residents of a nursing home in the western state of Washington.

New York on Saturday became the latest state to declare an emergency over the virus as the number of patients there rose to 76, including a driver who apparently worked for ride sharing company Uber.

Emergency declarations allow federal, state and local officials quicker access to funds to battle the outbreak.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said 57 of those infected in New York have links to the Orthodox Jewish community in New Rochelle, a city in Westchester County, 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of New York city.

"Westchester is an obvious problem," Cuomo said. "We talk about contagion in clusters; clusters tend to infect more and more people."

Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the US government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, met on Saturday in Florida with cruise line executives and reiterated that the government was doing its utmost to prevent the spread of the virus.

- 'Practice common sense' -

He said the stranded cruise ship would be brought to a non-commercial dock over the weekend and all 3,533 passengers and crew would be tested.

"All passengers and crew will be tested for the coronavirus and quarantined as appropriate," he told reporters. "Those that require additional medical attention will also receive it."

He underscored that while the risk of contracting the virus was low for the average American, older people with underlying health issues are particularly vulnerable.

"If you are yourself a senior citizen with a serious underlying medical condition, or if you have a loved one with a serious underlying medical condition, it is just a good time to practice common sense," he said.

The Grand Princess had been scheduled to dock in San Francisco on Saturday after a 14-day cruise but has been held off the coast since Wednesday after it emerged that two passengers who had been on a previous voyage had contracted the virus. One of them later died.

Wright said although there didn't seem to be panic among passengers, there was growing concern and frustration.

"So far we are both fine and we are really hoping to stay that way," she told AFP, speaking about her traveling companion.

"My friend has COPD (pulmonary disease) and she is extremely concerned about the virus."

- Little information -

She said passengers -- who have been confined to their cabins since Thursday -- at one point on Friday were told they would be allowed out for fresh air, but the idea was nixed by health authorities.

Another passenger, quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle, said he and his wife had also received little information about the outbreak from crew members.

Daniel Healy, 56, told the paper he has run out of diabetes medication and wasn't getting much help from the crew.

Gloves and face masks were delivered to the Grand Princess by helicopter late Friday.

Worldwide, the number of virus cases exceeds 100,000 and the overall death toll is more than 3,500 across 95 nations and territories, according to the latest count by AFP.