US cruise operators Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have announced a ban on all passengers and crew with Chinese passports, regardless of when those people were last in China.
The ban, which extends to Hong Kong and Macau passport holders, is a dramatic escalation of measures introduced to stop the disease spreading and reassure would-be passengers of the safety of cruise travel.
Friday’s announcement by the Miami-based companies came after four travellers who were on board the company’s Anthem of the Seas ship were hospitalised in New Jersey with feverish symptoms. According to Royal Caribbean, the passengers had come from China for the cruise from the US state to the Bahamas, and were hospitalised out of caution.
“None of the four guests being tested by showed any clinical signs or symptoms of coronavirus,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement. “We will delay our departure until tomorrow.”
Carnival Cruise Line’s Diamond Princess ship is currently quarantined until February 19th off the coast of Yokohama in Japan after 61 cases of coronavirus were confirmed among its 1,045 crew and 2,666 passengers.
A second ship, Genting’s World Dream, is quarantined outside Hong Kong with more than 3,600 passengers and crew members on board and at least eight coronavirus cases confirmed.
A third vessel, Holland America Lines’ Westerdam, was given preliminary permission to dock after being stranded at sea off Taiwan following initial reluctance from various countries to allow passengers to disembark after its visit to Hong Kong. There were no reports of coronavirus sufferers on board.
As part of its ban, Royal Caribbean says it won’t allow anyone on board if they’ve travelled “from, to, or through” China, Hong Kong, or Macao in the last 15 days, regardless of nationality, or anyone who’s come in contact with someone who’s been to those places in the same time frame. Norwegian Cruise Lines’ ban extends further to cover anyone who has travelled to those destinations in the last 30 days.
Royal Caribbean issued a statement saying: “We take this very seriously and have a responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy environment onboard our ships, as well as in the ports we visit.
“In alignment with new stricter CDC* protocols, we are tightening our measures to protect guests and crew. These steps are intentionally conservative, and we apologise that they will inconvenience some of our guests.”
In New Zealand, peak body the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has announced a strengthening of coronavirus measures across its ocean-going members, including pre-boarding screening and “enhanced screening and initial medical support” for those exhibiting symptoms.
Members are to deny boarding to anyone who has travelled via airports in China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days before embarkation, the CLIA says, and anyone who has been in close contact with suspected or confirmed carriers or people undergoing monitoring for the virus.
Joel Katz, the association’s managing director for Australasia, told industry representatives: “The health and safety of passengers and crews is, and must remain, the top priority for the cruise industry.
“These measures, while more restrictive than our previously announced enhanced protocols enacted on 31 January, are intended to reflect the industry’s commitment to ensuring necessary precautions are in place as the situation continues to evolve.”
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention