Coronavirus: Is it still safe to cruise?

Thousands are stranded on cruises ships around the world

If you’re due to depart on a cruise fairly soon, or you’re toying with the idea of making a booking, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re worried about contracting coronavirus, or possibly even worse, being left stranded at sea when other passengers get sick.

As I type, more than 3,700 people are stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan after one elderly passenger from Hong Kong infected at least 61 others with the virus, which can cause pneumonia and, in extreme cases, can lead to death.

One of those infected is a British chap who is being taken from the ship to be treated in a medical facility on shore along with the other passengers with coronavirus, while the rest have been confined to their cabins on the Diamond Princess where they’re being held in quarantine for at least 14 days until authorities can be sure that no-one else onboard is sick.

Meanwhile, four passengers who were on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas have been taken to hospital in New Jersey after being tested for the coronavirus and almost 2,000 people have been held on a cruise ship by Genting’s Dream Cruises in Hong Kong and being tested for the coronavirus after several crew members reported symptoms.

You might think there are worse places to be stuck than on a luxury cruise ship, but being cooped up in a small cabin for days on end is not much fun, no matter how comfortable it is, and I expect many of those passengers onboard have other places they need to be.

To try to reassure potential customers, cruise lines have issued a statement outlining the measures they are taking to avoid passengers becoming ill. For a start, they’ve banned passengers or crew who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in China – including Hong Kong and Macau – in the previous 14 days.

Additionally, no-one who has had close contact with or helped care for anyone suspected of having or diagnosed with coronavirus, or who is subject to monitoring for possible exposure to novel coronavirus, will be allowed on a cruise ship.

Cruise lines are also now conducting pre-boarding screening, with enhanced measures and initial medical support provided to anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus.

CLIA, an organisation which represents the vast majority of cruise lines, said that the cruise industry is “one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of passengers and crew”.

“Cruise lines take precautions to conduct passive as well as active screening of passengers and crew for illness prior to boarding when circumstances demand,” it said.

And, it says that if you do get sick, cruise lines do at least have good medical facilities onboard. “CLIA ocean-going members implement outbreak prevention and response measures and their ships must be fitted 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,” it said.

Obviously, you might also be nervous about sailing to a destination where there is an outbreak of coronavirus. CLIA says cruise lines are in close contact with leading global health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and others, and so presumably they’re using this information to decide which ports are deemed safe.

However, if you’ve booked a cruise and you’re concerned about coronavirus, which has infected more than 31,000 people and claimed more than 600 lives, the best advice is to contact the cruise line direct to discuss postponing or changing your trip. Unless your cruise has been cancelled because of the outbreak, you might not be entitled to a full refund or a free amendment, but it’s worth asking.

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