We have been receiving many questions and queries from our readers of late regarding coronavirus and the safety of cruising.

And given all of the news that has been released about coronavirus and its impact on cruise in the past few weeks, the queries and concerns are very understandable.

More incidents are being reported weekly, the latest being Princess Cruises’ ship Grand Princess, which is currently being held off the coast of California with passengers being ordered to stay in their staterooms while tests are carried out. So far, 21 people, including two guests and 19 crew members, have tested positive out of the 3,533 people on board.

Because of this, many people are questioning the safety of travelling by cruise and are wondering what their options are.

Coronavirus: Grand Princess
Grand Princess is one of several cruise ships to be affected by coronavirus

Is it safe to travel by cruise ship?

Travel risk expert and chairman of the TRIP Group Lloyd Figgins believes that given the situation with Grand Princess and previously Diamond Princess, authorities are going to have “to find a more appropriate way of dealing with cases on board cruise ships and that “quarantining ships off-shore is not a long-term solution”. However, he does stress that the risk remains low and the highest risk of contracting the virus remains on land.

“The situation around the virus is ongoing, although it should be highlighted that there are many regions of the globe that have been entirely unaffected,” he comments.

“Certainly, the risk is higher in China and the surrounding region and we have seen cruise ships being quarantined and refused entry to certain ports, but the highest risk is on land, in the regions that have been worst affected.

“The coronavirus, Covid-19 has certainly raised concerns over the safety of cruise passengers, however, this is not to say that people should no longer travel by cruise ship, but they should certainly be more rigorous in the preventative measures they are taking.”

He adds: “It’s worth remembering that hundreds of thousands of passengers have enjoyed trouble-free cruises since the outbreak was first identified in late 2019.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now warning against all but essential travel to the cities of Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea, 10 small towns in the Lombardy region and one in the Veneto region of Italy.

The FCO is currently not advising against travel to any other country/territory as a result of coronavirus risks.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, cruise lines have altered their itineraries or in some cases, cancelled sailings to avoid operating in Asia, including Celebrity Cruises, Cunard and Royal Caribbean, to name a few.

Leading cruise industry body CIA, which has 55 cruise lines as members, continues to stress the safety of cruising as a holiday.

“Cruising remains a very safe holiday option and customers should not be deterred from taking a cruise,” said CLIA’s UK and Ireland director Andy Harmer.

coronavirus: cancel cruise advice
The FCO is advising against travel to certain regions in Italy

What preventative measures are cruise lines taking?

Cruise lines are regularly updating passengers on their travel health advisories, even those which have not been hit with the coronavirus. Leading cruise industry body CLIA has this week issued even stricter screening policies to be adopted by its members.

These include denying boarding to all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in South Korea, Iran, China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and any municipality in Italy subject to lockdown within 14 days prior to embarkation; conduct illness screening for all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in any destinations listed on the US CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 within 14 days before embarkation; deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days prior to embarkation, have had contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed with coronavirus; conduct pre-boarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures.

CLIA president and CEO Kelly Craighead said: “The adoption of these measures further demonstrates the cruise industry’s unique ability to respond quickly as circumstances evolve.

“We remain in close contact with local governments around the world, and while we regret that these changes will result in the denial of boarding for some of our guests, travellers should know that their health and safety is the absolute priority for the industry.”

What steps can I take to stay healthy?

Leading health authorities are urging the same personal best practices that are standard for a typical flu season when it comes to coronavirus, including:

• Avoiding close contact with people who show signs of illness, including coughing or sneezing;
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
• Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
• Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol if soap and water are not available.

For those travelling by cruise, all ships have a hospital room and passengers are regularly encouraged to use hand sanitiser, which can be found in key locations throughout the ship. The BBC World Service has also issued a video showing people how to wash their hands properly to protect against viruses.

Should you feel unwell, CLIA members’ ships have been kitted out with medical facilities and shipboard medical professionals available around the clock, 24/7, to provide initial medical care in the event of illness and to help prevent disease transmission.

What should I do if my itinerary has been changed?

If your itinerary has changed due to coronavirus and you no longer wish to go on the cruise, you will need to speak directly with the individual cruise line or travel provider to see what their policy is. In cases where the itinerary has had to be completely changed, for example MSC Bellissima’s upcoming Grand Voyage itinerary from the Gulf of Asia – whereby calls in Shenzhen (mainland China), Hong Kong and Keelung (Taiwan) were cancelled and changed – passengers were given the option to cancel by the cruise line.

MSC Bellissima at Southampton
MSC Bellissima’s Grand voyage itinerary had to be dramatically altered

Will I get a refund if I cancel?

When it comes to cancellations, CLIA again advises cruise passengers “to consult with individual cruise lines and/or travel providers to be informed of the latest guidance available”.

Many cruise lines are now relaxing their cancellation policies in light of the outbreak, including Silversea, which has temporarily eased its booking and cancellation policies in light of the coronavirus. Passengers who make new bookings on sailings departing between 1 June and 31 December 2020 will be able to cancel until 30 days prior to departure, paying only an admin free on the cruise fare. Royal Caribbean group has also followed suit, releasing its ‘Cruise with Confidence’ policy, which allows cancellations of up to 48 hours before sailing.

For the latest updates on coronavirus, visit gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public.