California virus crisis as cruise ship held

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – California declared a state of emergency over the novel coronavirus on Wednesday as a cruise ship was held off the coast over fears of a new outbreak.

Separately, the federal government said it was going to buy 500 million respirators to stockpile for use by healthcare professionals.

The measures came as the death toll in the United States hit 11, including the first fatality in California, and lawmakers in Congress agreed to provide more than USD8 billion to fight the rapidly spreading disease.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the emergency measures as he reported the death of an elderly person who had taken a cruise to Mexico.

“The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Newsom told reporters.

The emergency proclamation would help the state prepare “in the event it spreads more broadly,” he said.

Thousands travelling aboard the Grand Princess – the same cruise ship on which California’s first victim was thought to have contracted the virus – were held offshore on Wednesday night.

The ship cut short its current voyage back from Hawaii after passengers and crew members developed symptoms. But its planned return to San Francisco was held up in order to carry out testing on board for those potentially infected.

“We’re holding that ship, which (has) thousands of passengers as well, off the coast, and we’ll be conducting those tests,” Newsom told a press conference.

California Governor Gavin Newsom. PHOTO: AP