Twenty-three people who needed acute medical care had been taken off the ship by late on Monday afternoon, US time, but it was not clear how many of them had tested positive for the virus, said Shawn Boyd, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.
Live TV footage showed at least one passenger, an older man wearing a face mask, climbing onto a stretcher and being lifted into the back of an ambulance. Officials have said the unloading will take up to three days.
“Our intent is to basically disembark about half the passengers today. Everyone will be screened initially today,” said Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services Services.
Workers wearing gloves and yellow protective gear erected a large tent by a platform where passengers were disembarking, and two tents displaying Canadian flags were also on the tarmac.
At least 20 buses and five ambulances waited. Canada and the UK were among the countries sending chartered flights to take home citizens.
US passengers will be flown or bused from the port – chosen for its proximity to an airport and a military base – to bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and a 14-day quarantine. The ship is carrying people from 54 countries, and foreigners will be whisked home.
About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere after passengers are unloaded, California Governor Gavin Newsom has said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
According to the World Health Organisation, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
More than 110,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide. More than 60,000 of those have recovered. By Tuesday morning, Australia had 91 confirmed cases.
In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered. The number of infections in the United States climbed to 600 Monday, with at least 26 deaths.
Elsewhere in the world:
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the metropolitan area’s airports, tested positive and is isolated in his home. Director Rick Cotton had been at the facilities while travellers were returning from hot spots.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US National Institutes of Health’s infectious diseases chief, said on Sunday that widespread closure of a city or region is “possible.”
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said communities would need to start thinking about cancelling large gatherings, closing schools and letting more employees work from home, as many companies have done after an outbreak in the Seattle area.
NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California’s Silicon Valley is essentially closed with restricted access because an employee tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday. Workers will be on “mandatory telework status” and three Earth science airplane missions are being delayed to later this year, the county said.
Several universities have begun online-only courses, including the University of Washington, Stanford University and Columbia University.
The largest school district in Northern California, with 64,000 students, cancelled classes for a week when it was discovered a family in the district was exposed to COVID-19. Georgia’s fourth-largest school district, which has more than 93,000 students, closed its schools for at least one day after a teacher at two middle schools was confirmed to have the coronavirus.
The Grand Princess had been held off the coast since Wednesday because of evidence that it was the breeding ground for more than 20 infections tied to a previous voyage. Passengers from that journey tested positive in California and other states.
Six Canadians who were on the Grand Princess from February 11 to 21 were also confirmed to have the virus.
The California governor and Oakland mayor sought to reassure people that none of the cruise ship passengers would be exposed to the public before completing the quarantine. Officials were trying to decide where the ship and its crew would go next.
The State Department warned against travel on cruise ships because of “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”
Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus.
Updated health advice for Australians
The symptoms of coronavirus include:
- Shortness of breath; and
- Breathing difficulties
If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.
Another cruise ship, the Regal Princess, pulled into a Florida port late on Sunday night after being held off the state’s coast for hours while awaiting coronavirus test results for two crew members, who did not have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.