A woman gestures as other people look on from aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, operated by Princess Cruises, as it maintains a holding pattern about 40km off the coast of San Francisco, California on Sunday. Photo: AFP

LOS ANGELES: The number of US coronavirus cases soared past 500 Sunday, including two further deaths, as California braced for the arrival of infected cruise ship passengers and saw a major tennis event cancelled.

The surge came as President Donald Trump defended his administration’s “perfectly coordinated” response to the epidemic, after heavy criticism over health cuts and strategic blunders that have failed to stem its rapid spread.

Some 30 US states have been hit by the novel coronavirus, with Oregon the latest to declare an emergency, and 60 million people in California and New York are under crisis measures.

Two more deaths linked to a virus-hit care home near Seattle were reported Sunday, bringing the nationwide toll to at least 21.

A Johns Hopkins tally put the number of confirmed US cases at 554 by Sunday evening, with newly diagnosed patients in states including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Medical officers headed for a virus-hit cruise ship stranded off San Francisco to begin screening passengers for an “unprecedented and difficult” landing operation.

The Grand Princess, with 21 confirmed coronavirus infections among 3,500 people on board, is due to dock in nearby Oakland yesterday.

The operation to move passengers ashore will take two to three days, said Governor Gavin Newsom.

Once ashore, ill passengers will be moved to hospitals, while Americans not requiring treatment will be quarantined at military bases in California, Texas and Georgia for 14 days.

Foreign passengers will be repatriated, while crew will remain quarantined on board.
The State Department warned vulnerable people including the elderly “should not travel by cruise ship”.

Several public events have been cancelled across the US in an effort to contain the epidemic.

Trump has defended his record after accusations he peddled misinformation on the outbreak, blaming the media for trying to make his government “look bad”.

“We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus,” he tweeted.

“We moved VERY early to close borders to certain areas, which was a Godsend. V.P. is doing a great job. The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!” – AFP