Judge bars US govt from moving virus patients to California city

113,000 Costa Mesa residents filed a legal action against the proposal, calling it Trump’s ‘political weapon’. (AP pic)

COSTA MESA: A US judge barred the government from relocating coronavirus patients to southern California for another week on Monday and ordered it to discuss the move with state officials.

US District Judge Josephine Staton had on Friday halted the government’s plans to send infected cruise ship passengers to a state-owned facility in Costa Mesa, after the Orange County city of 113,000 filed a legal action against the proposal.

The city had said the administration of US President Donald Trump was using the coronavirus crisis as a “political weapon” because he had cancelled a plan to send the patients to a more suitable facility in Republican Alabama.

At a hearing late on Monday, Staton ordered federal officials to share information with local officials before a new hearing on March 2. Media reports said so many people had crowded the courtroom that some had to sit on the floor.

City officials said they had been told on Thursday evening that infected patients would arrive in Costa Mesa over the weekend from Travis Air Force Base, a quarantine site in Northern California, the LA Times reported.

Jennifer Keller, an attorney from Costa Mesa, argued that it was not appropriate to quarantine patients with the Covid-19 virus in the city’s Fairview Developmental Center as it is located on a busy street in a residential neighbourhood.

The state health commission and government offices did not immediately respond to overnight requests for comment.

The United States has not seen the virus spread through its communities the way that China and a few other countries have experienced, but health officials are preparing for the possibility.

There have been 53 confirmed US cases of the new coronavirus so far – 14 in people diagnosed in the United States and 39 among Americans repatriated from the outbreak’s epicentre of Wuhan, China, and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Trump administration is asking Congress for US$2.5 billion to fight the virus.

The overall death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had crossed 2,600 as of the end of Monday.