U.S. says it is tracking ship that may have shared crew with coronavirus-hit cruise liner

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the government's coronavirus task force, speaks during a press conference at the Pierce County Readiness Center at Camp Murray near Tacoma, Washington, U.S. March 5, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is tracking a cruise ship that may have shared crew members with a ship carrying people who tested positive for COVID-19, Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday.

"We are tracking at this point a ship that may have shared crew with the Diamond Princess or the Grand Princess and we've taken decisive action to hold until we do a full medical assessment of the crew on that ship," Pence said after a meeting with cruise line industry officials in Florida.

The vice president, who is heading a task force to manage the U.S. response to the disease outbreak, did not identify the ship being tracked.

The Grand Princess is currently in waters off San Francisco after 21 people on board tested positive for a sometimes deadly respiratory illness dubbed COVID-19.

The Diamond Princess cruise liner, also owned by Carnival Corp, the world's leading cruise operator, was quarantined off Japan in February and was for a time the largest concentration of coronavirus cases outside China.

Asked if elderly people should avoid cruise ships, Pence said elderly people with serious underlying medical conditions were most likely to become very ill or die from the new disease. "Those Americans should avoid any activities that might unnecessarily expose them to the coronavirus," he said.

The vice president also said that the cruise industry would develop within the next 72 hours expanded testing for the new disease.

"Today we reached an agreement with the cruise line industry to further enhance entry and exit screening and also to establish shipboard testing for the coronavirus," said Pence.

The industry will also work with U.S. public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set up standards to quarantine ships and to transport ill passengers to shore, Pence said.

"This will be an industry-led effort," he said.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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