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California tamps down fears as virus-hit ship set to dock

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Los Angeles (AFP)

California on Sunday prepared to disembark passengers from a virus-hit cruise ship as officials played down any risk to local communities.

The Grand Princess, which has 21 novel coronavirus infections among the 3,500 people on board, is set to dock in Oakland Monday after four days held off the coast of nearby San Francisco.

Passengers "will not be released into the general public" but will either be moved to hospitals for treatment or to federal "isolation facilities" in California, Texas and Georgia, officials said Sunday.

Oakland's port was chosen as it was the easiest location "to seal off, securely move passengers toward their isolation destinations and protect the safety of the public," the governor's emergency services office said.

Crew will remain quarantined on board the ship which "will depart Oakland as soon as possible."

"No one will be quarantined in Oakland, nor will any passengers be released into the general public," said the city's mayor Libby Schaaf.

Military bases in California, Texas and Georgia will host disembarked passengers from those regions, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a separate statement

"Several hundred" foreign passengers will be repatriated to their countries, it added.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams called the operation to help those on board a "delicate balance" but tamped down fears of any risk to the wider US public.

"The most important thing for American people to know is that folks who test positive will be kept isolated so that they cannot expose other people," he told CBS.

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