Canadian cruisers begin leaving Coral Princess in Florida amid COVID-19 outbreak

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OTTAWA -- Canadians began leaving the COVID-19-stricken Coral Princess cruise ship on Monday, after the ship reached Florida late last week.

There were 97 Canadian passengers aboard the ship, which left Santiago, Chile, on March 5 and docked in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday.

The Canadian Press has been told by at least two couples travelling on the ship that passengers had been allowed to leave the ship and were on a bus headed for the airport.

Gary and Sue Lyon said in an email they were on bus waiting to board a charter flight to Toronto via Columbus and Newark.

"We are all feeling relieved, happy and excited to go home. We will go home and self isolate for 14 days," the Lyons said in an email.

"We appreciate all the crew and staff of the Coral Princess have done for us during this very challenging time. We wish them all the best."

North Vancouver resident Sanford Osler, who was travelling with his wife, said all passengers were wearing masks and gloves, and that he felt physically healthy.

"Physically, I feel normal ... Emotionally, I'm relieved to be off the ship, obviously, and on the way home. Although now we have further uncertainties," Osler said by telephone from the bus.

Osler said he is getting "mixed signals" about whether he and his wife will have to be quarantined in Toronto for 14 days before moving on to Vancouver.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said on Twitter that Canadians on the Coral Princess who don't have COVID-19 symptoms would be able to return home on a charter aircraft Monday.

"Upon arrival they will be screened again and subject to a mandatory 14-day self-isolation," Champagne tweeted.

Two people aboard the ship have died, and 12 have tested positive for COVID-19, Princess Cruises has said. Still more are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The department said it is monitoring the progress 49 Canadians and eight crew members on seven other ships.

The department says it is not aware that any of them have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The ships are the MS Albatros, Viking Sun, MV Columbus, Costa Deliziosa, Pacific Princess, MSC Magnifica, and the Queen Mary 2.

More recently, Canadians on the MS Zaandam and MS Rotterdam, arrived in Canada on a plane chartered by operator Holland America.

Cruise ships have essentially become floating Petri dishes for the novel coronavirus.

In February, the largest cruise-ship outbreak occurred aboard the Diamond Princess ship, also operated by Princess Cruises.

The Diamond Princess was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, as 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected.

The federal government evacuated 129 Canadians from that ship and brought them to eastern Ontario for quarantine on Feb. 21, but 47 Canadians infected by the virus had to stay behind in Japan for treatment.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is telling Canadians to avoid travelling on cruise ships, but delivered that firm warning March 9, a few days after the Coral Princess set sail.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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