Cruise Sails On, In Spite of Coronavirus

Author: Olivia Sharpe

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The cruise industry has been quick to react to the crisis

As the coronavirus (officially renamed Covid-19) continues to spread across the world, the cruise industry has come under an intense spotlight with quarantined ships and passenger outbreaks having been reported.

Princess Cruises’ ship Diamond Princess, carrying 3,700 people, including 78 Britons, has been held under quarantine since 5 February following an outbreak of Covid-19 on board. More than 620 passengers have been tested positive with the disease.

The cruise ship’s quarantine period officially ended on Wednesday and the disembarkation process for passengers has begun, with 600 passengers reportedly having left the ship.

A government rescue flight for British passengers stuck on the ship is due to take off from Tokyo today, a development that came following reports that two elderly passengers – both in their eighties with underlying health conditions – had died after contracting the virus.

Along with Princess Cruises, Holland America Line has also faced issues, having had its ship Westerdam denied from entering into Japanese ports amid fears.

After confirming that there were no cases on board, the ship was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia and the 1,455 passengers were granted permission to disembark.

Many cruise lines have had to reroute or in some cases, cancel their itineraries, as Asia restricted access to its major ports, including Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Cunard.

This has already resulted in a drop in sales for certain cruise lines. Last week, Carnival Corporation, which owns a number of cruise lines that have been directly affected by the coronavirus, stated that it believes the impact on bookings will result in a drop in its 2020 results and share prices by up to $0.55 a share.

Coronavirus cruise: advice, covid-19
MSC has cancelled calls to several Asia ports for Bellissima’s upcoming grand voyage

Royal Caribbean also warned of the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak, revealing that recent bookings across the business have been “softer”.

However, in spite of this, the cruise industry has been very quick to react to the crisis, coming up with alternative sailings following cancellations to ensure as little disruption to passenger sailings as possible.

Cunard recently announced that its Queen Mary 2 will be avoiding several ports in southeast Asia, including Singapore. Its current world cruise will instead sail directly to Fremantle, Australia.

Meanwhile, MSC Cruises has altered MSC Bellissima’s upcoming Grand Voyage itinerary from the Gulf of Asia, cancelling calls in Shenzhen (mainland China), Hong Kong and Keelung (Taiwan), and coming up with alternative ports of call.

To ensure the safety of everyone on board, cruise lines have put in place strict protocols in light of the outbreak.

Cruise lines are regularly updating passengers on their travel health advisories, even those which have not been hit with the coronavirus, the most recent being British company P&O Cruises.

Leading cruise industry body CLIA, which has 55 cruise lines as members, released its enhanced protocols list for its members following the virus outbreak.

Guidelines include screenings for passengers before boarding and denying embarkation to anyone who has travelled through or transited via airports in China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days of embarkation.

CLIA’s UK & Ireland director, Andy Harmer, believes that despite recent events, passengers “should not be deterred from taking a cruise”.

In a statement, he said: “Cruising remains a very safe holiday option and customers should not be deterred from taking a cruise.

“CLIA cruise line members have put in place very strict protocols to ensure the health and safety of their passengers are protected to the highest level and these will remain in place until the Covid-19 virus outbreak is brought under control.”

Travel risk expert and chairman of the TRIP Group, Lloyd Figgins, agrees that people should not feel as though they can no longer travel by cruise ship.

He comments: “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.”

He also notes that while the risk is higher in China and the surrounding region with cruise ships having been quarantined and refused entry to certain ports, the highest risk remains on land, “in the regions that have been worst affected”.

Key advice for cruise passengers booked on a cruise:

Check your ship’s itineraries

Passengers should check where their ship is sailing to (including all ports) and if it’s in or around Southeast Asia, should speak to their cruise line in case there have been any modifications, alterations or cancellations to their voyage. CLIA advises cruise passengers “to consult with individual cruise lines and/or travel providers to be informed of the latest guidance available”.

For those cruises that aren’t cancelled, but are due to sail around Southeast Asia, there may be boarding restrictions imposed.

Maintain hygiene at all times

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

Check the compensation policy

If your cruise happens to be cancelled or amended, CLIA recommends it’s best to consult with individual cruise lines and/or travel providers to see what their compensation policies are. Certain cruise lines are offering compensation and refunds to passengers whose sailings have been affected by Covid-19, but passengers will need to check with their specific line.

Those worried about their cruise should contact their cruise line or head to the CLIA website for more information.