Cruise in­dus­try copes with coro­n­avirus threat

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Mor­gan Hines

With cruise ships quar­an­tin­ing thou­sands of pas­sen­gers while deal­ing with coro­n­avirus cases on­board and ports turn­ing ships away over coro­n­avirus con­cerns, what does that mean for the fu­ture of cruis­ing?

The new coro­n­avirus, which was first iden­tified in Wuhan, China, has spread across the globe with more than 45,000 confirmed cases and the death toll ris­ing to more than 1,100 as of Wednesday. The ma­jor­ity of the cases are in main­land China, and the death toll has sur­passed the SARS out­break of 2002 to 2003.

While viruses such as SARS have affected trav­el­ers be­fore, the cruise in­dus­try is uniquely affected by the spread of the coro­n­avirus, es­pe­cially be­cause the out­break be­gan in China, an emerg­ing mar­ket in the cruise in­dus­try.

Cruise his­to­rian Peter Knego told USA TO­DAY that there is no prece­dent that matches what is going on now, though he com­pared it loosely to SARS and the bird flu. But now that the cruise in­dus­try has such a large pres­ence in the area of the ini­tial out­break, the game has changed.

“While the rel­a­tive im­pact to global cruise op­er­a­tions is not ex­ten­sive at this time, we rec­og­nize that the im­pact even on just one per­son is sig­nificant.”

Bari Golin- Blau­grund, se­nior di­rec­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion

“The China mar­ket has ex­ploded in the past five years or so,” he said. “It’s a differ­ent an­i­mal than be­fore.”

Ac­cord­ing to a Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion ( CLIA) report on the Asia cruise mar­ket, pas­sen­ger num­bers from Asia hit a record high in 2018 with 4.24 mil­lion tak­ing an ocean cruise. China ac­counted for more than half ( 55.8%) of that traffic, the trade as­so­ci­a­tion re­ported.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Asia- Pacific mar­ket, while it is grow­ing, is still small rel­a­tive to other mar­kets around the world, Bari Golin- Blau­grund, se­nior di­rec­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions for CLIA told USA TO­DAY in an email.

“In 2018 – the lat­est year that we have final num­bers – 28.5M pas­sen­gers sailed on CLIA cruise ships; of those pas­sen­gers, about 8- 9% ( or 2.5M) were from China, in­clud­ing Hong Kong and Ma­cau,” she said.

And right now, while there are sev­eral ships that have been affected by coro­n­avirus, hun­dreds of oth­ers con­tinue nor­mal op­er­a­tions around the globe. “While the rel­a­tive im­pact to global cruise op­er­a­tions is not ex­ten­sive at this time, we rec­og­nize that the im­pact even on just one per­son is sig­nificant,” GolinBlau­grund added.

It may take a while, Knego said, to figure out how to deal with the virus, though some cruise lines are in the thick of it now. “I just think we have to see how it de­vel­ops,” he said.

What’s hap­pen­ing on cruise ships right now?

There are sev­eral cruise ships that are in the thrall of deal­ing with coro­n­avirus or the fear that sur­rounds its spread. Com­mon signs of in­fec­tion in­clude fever, cough, short­ness of breath and breath­ing difficul­ties.

Hol­land Amer­ica’s MS Wes­ter­dam has been turned away from sev­eral ports, leav­ing the ship in limbo. De­spite re­ports to the con­trary, there are no known cases of coro­n­avirus on board, though the ship was in Hong Kong and has been barred by the Philip­pines, Guam Ja­pan and Thai­land. Pas­sen­gers are finally set to dis­em­bark Thurs­day in Cam­bo­dia. The ship de­parted Hong Kong Feb. 1 and orig­i­nally was sched­uled to dis­em­bark in Shang­hai on Satur­day be­fore coro­n­avirus gripped main­land China and forced itin­er­ary changes.

Di­a­mond Princess, a Princess Cruises ship that is quar­an­tined off the coast of Ja­pan through Feb. 19, has had at least­174­cases of coro­n­avirus di­ag­nosed as of Tues­day even­ing, and at least 20 of them are Amer­i­cans. Those with confirmed cases of coro­n­avirus are be­ing taken off the ship and moved to hos­pi­tals. The cruise had 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board when it set sail Jan. 20.

Pas­sen­gers aboard Dream Cruises’ World Dream dis­em­barked Sun­day at Hong Kong’s Kai Tek Cruise Ter­mi­nal af­ter tests re­vealed no one on board had coro­n­avirus. Three people who were on the ship from Jan. 19 to Jan. 24 tested pos­i­tive for coro­n­avirus, and the ship was un­der quar­an­tine near Hong Kong while it waited for test re­sults for pas­sen­gers and crew. World Dream op­er­a­tions will be sus­pended un­til fur­ther no­tice, ac­cord­ing to the cruise line.

Mean­while, Royal Caribbean’s An­them of the Seas de­parted Bayonne, New Jersey, Mon­day af­ter­noon af­ter pas­sen­gers tested neg­a­tive for coro­n­avirus. Pas­sen­gers were tested af­ter the ship docked and screened 27 pas­sen­gers who had re­cently trav­eled from main­land China. The itin­er­ary was changed from a Ba­hamas cruise to Bermuda, in light of the de­layed de­par­ture.

The Costa Smer­alda, one of Costa Cruises’ ships, had a coro­n­avirus scare at the end of Jan­uary that locked down the ship for nearly a day in Civ­i­tavec­chia, Italy. The scare turned out to be a case of the flu.

Other lines have can­celed or al­tered their itin­er­ar­ies for cruises, pri­mar­ily to avoid China.

Does the in­dus­try know what to do?

So what does that mean for cruis­ing right now? Can the in­dus­try han­dle this kind of out­break?

CLIA has is­sued and up­dated in­dus­try pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures for its mem­bers to follow to pre­vent the spread of the coro­n­avirus.

CLIA mem­ber ships are to deny board­ing to any­one who has been in close con­tact with or helped to care for some­one sus­pected or di­ag­nosed with coro­n­avirus. Those who are be­ing mon­i­tored for po­ten­tial ex­po­sure to the virus are also to be turned away.

Ships also are to deny board­ing to all who have trav­eled from, vis­ited or been through air­ports in China within a twoweek pe­riod be­fore em­barka­tion. That in­cludes Hong Kong and Ma­cao in ad­di­tion to main­land China.

Some lines have taken even more dras­tic pre­cau­tions: Nor­we­gian and Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional cruise lines an­nounced Fri­day they would bar pas­sen­gers hold­ing pass­ports from China, Hong Kong or Ma­cao, a de­ci­sion that has been con­tro­ver­sial.

Are cruise lines do­ing the right things?

Andrew Cog­gins, pro­fes­sor at the Pace Univer­sity Lu­bin School of Business and cruise in­dus­try an­a­lyst, called the blan­ket ban on China, Hong Kong and Ma­cao pass­port hold­ers “wor­ry­ing.”

“That smacks of racial/ eth­nic para­noia,” he said in a state­ment. “Royal Caribbean has in­vested much time and trea­sure de­vel­op­ing their China Mar­ket over the past 12 plus years. China is a proud and an­cient coun­try. Such a blan­ket ban will not go un­no­ticed.”

Eric Cioe- Peña, di­rec­tor of global health for North­well Health told USA TO­DAY in an email that what Princess Cruises is do­ing on Di­a­mond Princess is safe be­cause they are tak­ing pre­cau­tions to sep­a­rate people that are healthy from people that are sick.

“It’s re­ally important that we’re not putting people at risk when we quar­an­tine them,” Cioe- Peña said. “One of the good things that was done with the Ja­panese cruise ship is that the people who were iden­tified as ‘ sick’ were taken off of the boat and brought to med­i­cal care fa­cil­i­ties.”

And while un­der quar­an­tine, the pas­sen­gers on the Di­a­mond Princess have been in­structed to stay in their suites or cab­ins. Those in in­te­rior cab­ins with no win­dow or out­door ac­cess have been able to go on deck for up to an hour and a half but must stay at least 3 feet from fel­low pas­sen­gers, Matt Smith, an at­tor­ney on the ship from Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, told USA TO­DAY.

But there are risks if you quar­an­tine thou­sands of people for longer than they in­tended to be on a ship – food, med­i­cal sup­plies and get­ting rid of waste all are con­cerns.

“We’re pretty much in the un­fold­ing stages,” Knego said. “I think un­til they de­ter­mine how se­ri­ous this epi­demic is, it’s day- by- day play.”

But coro­n­avirus isn’t the only virus to plague cruise ships.

The spread of norovirus, a highly con­ta­gious virus which causes vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhea, has been an is­sue on cruise ships for years. Just this week, two ships faced norovirus out­breaks that forced both to re­turn to port.

And the flu is some­thing to worry about, as well, po­ten­tially even more so than coro­n­avirus, from Knego’s per­spec­tive. “Even though this is a scary dis­ease, the flu is much more preva­lent,” he said.

The flu is dead­lier and more wide­spread than coro­n­avirus. So far there have been at least 22 mil­lion flu cases, 210,000 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and 12,000 deaths re­lated to the flu in the U. S. this influenza sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

Since there is no vac­cine for coro­n­avirus, the CDC rec­om­mends com­mon heath prac­tices for preven­tion, in­clud­ing wash­ing hands, san­i­tiz­ing fre­quently touched ob­jects and avoid­ing people who are sick.

And cruis­ers aren’t at huge risk un­less their ship is trav­el­ing to an affected area or has pas­sen­gers from those ar­eas.

At a U. S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices briefing Fri­day, Robert Redfield, di­rec­tor of the CDC al­luded to the coro­n­avirus cruise is­sues.

“If you’re going on a cruise ship, stay in the Caribbean. ... It’s re­ally no risk,” he said.

Will people keep cruis­ing?

Hear­ing about the virus and quar­an­tines that have re­sulted can be scary.

There have been mixed re­ac­tions from pas­sen­gers stuck on ships such as the Di­a­mond Princess. Some are try­ing to keep a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude while oth­ers think that the ship has turned into a “float­ing prison.”

One fam­ily from Hawaii can­celed their cruise through Asia with Nor­we­gian Cruise Lines and lost $ 32,000 – the line wouldn’t is­sue a re­fund.

An­gela Pet­tit, a 51- year- old in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy con­sul­tant from Texas, has gone on more than 20 cruises in the last decade.

She dis­em­barked from a sail­ing on the Celebrity Eclipse just last week. The cruise vis­ited a few lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Ar­gentina and Alaska, she told USA TO­DAY.

Pas­sen­gers didn’t know the full ex­tent of what was going on with coro­n­avirus un­til the ship docked in Hous­ton, she said. But on board, there were wor­ries. “It was a con­cern through­out the whole trip be­cause you just don’t know,” she said. “You’re com­ing in con­tact with so many differ­ent people; you don’t know their back­grounds.”

While Pet­tit doesn’t have an­other cruise sched­uled for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, she does have an­other booked in February 2021. And though that is nearly a year away, she is feel­ing hes­i­tant.

“I’m kind of hav­ing sec­ond thoughts,” she said. “I never wor­ried prior.”

An­other cruiser, Ca­role Jones, 47, from Min­nesota, finished a cruise with Car­ni­val Cruise Line just more than week ago.

Jones has six chil­dren, and on past cruises, they have con­tracted norovirus, which changed the way they cruised in later cruises but hasn’t stopped them.

With the confined space of a cruise ship, Jones said she un­der­stands how viruses such as coro­n­avirus or norovirus can get out of hand quickly.

Now, they take wipes to san­i­tize their cabin, don’t eat at any buffets and try not to use any pub­lic re­strooms on­board to avoid any spread­ing germs.

“We were on the ship when first quar­an­tine hap­pened over­seas,” she told USA TO­DAY. “It definitely made us ner­vous.”

Her fam­ily has an­other cruise sched­uled in a few months. At this point, they aren’t planning to can­cel. But they also aren’t com­mit­ted to going.

“The cruise in­dus­try does a great job, but some­thing like this is new,” Jones said. “We’ll see where we are in three more months.”

Oth­ers are determined not to let the virus keep them from their plans.

Syl­vain Plasse, an ac­tor from Toronto and fre­quent cruiser who has com­pleted more than 100 sail­ings, told USA TO­DAY in a mes­sage that “we have to con­tinue liv­ing.”

He has no plans to stop cruis­ing but is tak­ing pre­cau­tions.

“( Coro­n­avirus) definitely will not de­ter me from cruis­ing; how­ever ... I am avoid­ing Asia at all costs,” he said.


People wear­ing pro­tec­tive gear walk from the quar­an­tined Di­a­mond Princess ship, where 174 cases of coro­n­avirus have been di­ag­nosed, on Mon­day in Yoko­hama, Ja­pan.


The Di­a­mond Princess cruise ship sits docked at Daikoku Pier, where it is be­ing re­sup­plied, and newly di­ag­nosed coro­n­avirus cases are taken for treatment as the boat re­mains in quar­an­tine.

Rel­a­tives of Di­a­mond Princess pas­sen­gers wave at the quar­an­tined cruise ship at Daikoku Pier Cruise Ter­mi­nal in Yoko­hama, Ja­pan. The ship went out to sea Tues­day to dump waste­water and gen­er­ate potable wa­ter.


A pas­sen­ger looks out from a bal­cony of the Di­a­mond Princess cruise ship while it is docked at Daikoku Pier.

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