Cruise ship with coronavirus-hit passengers allowed to travel via Panama Canal, set to dock in Florida port

Two people have tested positive for coronavirus aboard the cruise liner and four elderly passengers have died

                            Cruise ship with coronavirus-hit passengers allowed to travel via Panama Canal, set to dock in Florida port
(Getty Images)

Luxury cruise ship Zaandam has finally been allowed to pass through the Panama Canal to arrive in Port Everglades, the Panama Canal Authority has announced axing its previous decision to ban the ship's entry. The permission was granted upon agreement that the crew and passengers on board the ship would not be allowed disembark and enter Panama

The Zaandam cruise ship, housing 1,800 passengers and crew, has two coronavirus infected people aboard while four elderly passengers have died. The ship was stranded off the Pacific coast of Panama after several Latin American countries refused to allow it to dock at their ports. 

On the evening of March 28, the Panamanian government announced that they would be reversing their decision to ban the ship from entering the canal for "humanitarian reasons".

The statement reported by Reuters read as follows: “The ship will be scheduled for transit after entering Canal waters, which has not occurred to-date. According to the Zaandam’s itinerary, the vessel was originally scheduled to transit on April 1." It is expected to proceed to Fort Lauderdale, Florida as the owners, Holland America Line of Miami-based Carnival Corp. had planned originally.

According to the Miami Herald, the ship is bound for Port Everglades where it will unload the sick passengers and crew. Aboard the ship are hundreds of elderly passengers from the UK, the US and Australia. 

“Panama will guarantee bio-security measures to protect the personnel, who will participate in this maneuver and thus safeguard the health of Panamanians", the government reportedly said in the statement.

Zaandam's sister ship, the Rotterdam has also been given clearance and will be allowed to pass through the canal. Hundreds of asymptomatic passengers were moved aboard the Rotterdam by the company after conducting a temperature check and having the passengers fill out a questionnaire noting any symptoms.

On March 28, following the Panamanian government's decision, spokeswoman Sally Andrews for Holland America Line, said, “We are aware of reported permission for both Zaandam and Rotterdam to transit the Panama Canal in the near future. We greatly appreciate this consideration in the humanitarian interest of our guests and crew. This remains a dynamic situation, and we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities to finalize details.”

The company also confirmed that 53 guests and 85 crew members had reported symptoms akin to those experienced during the flu. The Zaandam boasted a crew of 586 members including four doctors and four nurses, as well as 1,243 guests, initially.

Holland America Line announced on March 13 that it would suspend all cruise operating for 30 days henceforth and end all cruises in progress. Many other cruise lines worldwide followed suit in doing the same. But cruises that were still at sea were stranded, after being denied docking in ports. They have been rushing to disembark passengers amid the coronavirus concerns.

The Zaandam, which was originally bound for San Antonio, Chile, began its voyage from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7. It was to complete its journey on March 21. No one has left the deck since March 14, when it was docked in Punta Arena, Chile.

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