(SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, SAYING: "Um, I'm going to be doing an executive order today directing all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside the home." After weeks of resisting calls by health experts for stronger social distancing measures in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday issued a statewide stay-at-home order that will begin Thursday night to slow the spread of the coronavirus in his state.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, SAYING: "You know, at this point, I think even though there's a lot of places in Florida that have very low infection rates, it makes sense to make this move now." DeSantis had previously left the stay-at-home decision up to local officials in the state, sparking heavy criticism from Florida’s Democrats in Congress, who published an open-letter to the governor pleading for him to issue a statewide order.
But, on Wednesday, DeSantis said it was a higher authority that got him to change his mind.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, SAYING: "I did speak with the president about it.
You know, he agreed with the approach of focusing on the hotspots.
But, at the same time, you know, he understood that this is another 30-day situation and you got to just do what makes the most sense." President Donald Trump had also urged DeSantis to open Florida's port to a virus-hit Dutch cruise ship and its sister ship, saying on Tuesday it was the right thing to do.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, SAYING: "There are people that are sick on the ship.
And we don't want to be, like, they're going to be ghost ships, you know, people turn those ships away... But they're dying on the ship.
So I'm gonna, I'm gonna, you know, I'm gonna do what's right.
Not only for us but for humanity.
I mean, these are two big ships and they have a lot of very sick people and I'll be speaking to... I'll be talking to the governor." DeSantis was initially opposed to the idea.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, SAYING ON MARCH 31: "We have enough to deal with, with our folks in Florida." But, on Wednesday, DeSantis said he was working with the U.S. government on a plan to allow the thousands of passengers exposed to the coronavirus to disembark.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, SAYING: "Clearly, we're going to be willing to accept any Floridians who are on board.
My understanding is that most of the passengers are foreign nationals.
I think that they're working on ways to deal with that... I did speak with the president this morning about it.
I think he would like to see a solution." One of the two Dutch cruise ships seeking to dock in Florida is Holland America Line's Zaandam, on which four passengers have died.
Nearly two-thirds of its passengers, those who passed a medical screening, were moved to the line's sister ship, the Rotterdam.
In a phone interview with Reuters, one Canadian couple quarantined on the Zaandam made a desperate plea for help.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS JOINER, CANADIAN CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER, (AUDIO LAID UNDER STILL PHOTOGRAPHS OF CRUISE PASSENGER ANNA JOINER, PROVIDED BY CHRIS AND ANNA JOINER) SAYING: "We're isolated.
So we're stuck on this ship.
We can't go anywhere because we're not healthy." On Wednesday, both vessels were on the way to Fort Lauderdale, each carrying more than a thousand passengers and crew.
So far, Florida has reported more than 6,000 cases of coronavirus and 85 deaths.
One research firm said the state's large elderly population could make it among the states hardest hit by the outbreak.