Passengers on a virus-infected cruise ship stranded off Central America were transferred to another ship on Saturday after the US-going ship was given permission to pass the Panama Canal.
The Zaandam had been stuck in the Pacific since March 14, after dozens of 1,800 people on board reported flu-like symptoms and several South American ports refused to dock.
Dutch ship owner Holland America said four passengers died on Friday and two more tested positive for COVID-19.
Panama overturned its decision to ban the Zaandam from its channel on Saturday, saying that it could "happen to provide humanitarian aid".
Another ship, the Rotterdam, has since arrived off the coast of Panama from San Diego and carries food, medical personnel, test kits, medication and food for the distressed ship.
Passengers who showed no signs of the virus were brought from Zaandam to Rotterdam on Saturday, a French tourist AFP said by phone.
"It's like emptying a bathtub with a teaspoon," she said.
"The boats can accommodate about 100 people, and they use about half at a time, so it's slow."
The cruise ship Zaandam left Buenos Aires on March 7 and was due to arrive in San Antonio near Santiago, Chile two weeks later.
Several ports have been refused since a brief layover in Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia on March 14, after reports of 42 people on board suffering from flu-like symptoms.
On Friday, the Panamanian government blocked the ship from the waterway and cut the Florida route.
"It is very difficult to maintain mental health," passenger Dante Leguizamon from Argentina said on board the ship to AFP Saturday in a video taken in the small cabin that he has been restricted to for six days.
"I am … on a boat that I cannot get off, with coronavirus patients, with four deaths, to Miami, full of uncertainty, without money … and without knowing whether there is a plane back to my home . "
Panama's Minister of Maritime Affairs, Noriel Arauz, told AFP that 401 passengers who tested negative for COVID-19 were allowed to leave the Zaandam.
Sick people and people in contact with them will not be transferred.
The Zaandam will now sail to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the remaining passengers can disembark, according to Holland America and Panamanian officials.
The Rotterdam is expected to return to San Diego, said Arauz.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)