Donald Trump intervention could help bring Norfolk coronavirus cruise ship couple home

United States president Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

United States president Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) - Credit: AP

A Norfolk couple, on board a cruise ship which has been stranded at sea, have been given hope they could be on their way home - by United States president Donald Trump.

Norfolk couple Heather and David Haycox. Pic: Courtesy Samantha Haycox.

Norfolk couple Heather and David Haycox. Pic: Courtesy Samantha Haycox. - Credit: Samantha Haycox

Mr Trump has said arrangements had been made with the UK government to evacuate British passengers on two cruise ships set to dock in Florida after being hit by the coronavirus.

Four people have died aboard the cruise ship Zaandam, including 75-year-old British man John Carter, whose widow has been isolated on board since his death.

Brooke couple David and Heather Haycox, both 62, were among 200 Britons on the ship, which has recorded nine confirmed cases of Covid-19 and has some 200 people on board who have reported flu-like symptoms.

Mr and Mrs Haycox were among healthy passengers on the Zaandam who were moved on to its sister-ship, the Rotterdam, earlier this week, with both vessels having been denied entry to ports in several countries.

The Zaandam cruise ship. Pic: AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco

The Zaandam cruise ship. Pic: AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco - Credit: AP

The cruise liners are seeking to dock in Florida but have become embroiled in a dispute, with local authorities reluctant to take more patients into a state healthcare system already stretched by the coronavirus outbreak.

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However, Mr Trump said on Wednesday there was no choice but to allow the ships to dock and for those aboard to disembark.

The Associated Press reported Mr Trump had confirmed arrangements had been made with the UK to repatriate British passengers.

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This was in keeping with comments this week from foreign secretary Dominic Raab that the government was “determined to help Britons stranded abroad” and that it would “work with British Airways to keeps flights running, so travelling Brits can get back to the UK”.

Speaking at the daily White House coronavirus briefing, Mr Trump said: “It’s a tough situation you know. You can understand you have people that are sick on the ships and states don’t want to take (them). They have enough problems right now.

“They don’t want to take them. But we have to from a humane standpoint. We don’t have a choice. I don’t want to do that but we have to. People are dying.”

Before Mr Trump’s comments on Wednesday, local authorities in Broward County, Florida, one of the locations the ship has been denied permission to dock, had urged the US government to intervene in the case.

Michael Udine, commissioner of Broward County, said: “Decisions with international implications should not be left to local officials to make piecemeal solutions during a global crisis.

“We need experts from the CDC and Fema to do their jobs and outline a plan that takes the passengers out of limbo and does not play politics.”

Holland America Line, the cruise ship operator said in a statement on Facebook: “Since March 22, 97 guests (83 on Zaandam/14 on Rotterdam) and 136 crew on Zaandam (0 on Rotterdam) have presented with influenza-like symptoms. We have seen a significant decline in the presentation of new cases on Zaandam, with only one new case reporting in the past 24 hours.

“There are 808 guests and 583 crew on Rotterdam. On Zaandam there are 442 guests and 603 crew.

“Holland America Line calls for compassion and reason in the review and approval of our disembarkation plan by Florida officials and we are grateful for those that have supported our efforts.

“We appreciate the support of President Trump in resolving the humanitarian plight of our guests – 311 of whom are American citizens and 52 of whom are residents of Florida. There are also four children under the age of 12 on board.”

Zaandam was sailing a South America cruise that began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 that was originally scheduled to end at San Antonio, Chile, on March 21, but it was denied permission to come ashore and ended up having to get special permission to go through the Panama Canal to head to Fort Lauderdale.

Mr Haycox said that the Foreign Office had said the plan was for them to fly back to the UK on Friday night.

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