Saturday, February 8, 2020

Cruise lines ban Chinese passport holders over coronavirus fears

SPAIN-TOURISM-SHIP-CRUISEPhoto credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines are banning passengers from their cruise ships who hold passports from China, Hong Kong, or Macao “until further notice” because of the coronavirus outbreak, the companies announced Friday. Norwegian tells The Verge it is also banning crew members who hold any of those passports.

In addition, Royal Caribbean says it won’t allow any guest or crew member on board one of its ships if they’ve traveled “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. Carnival is reportedly following a similar guideline set out by the cruise industry’s trade group, but did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Norwegian Cruise Lines is taking it even further, saying it won’t allow guests or crew members to board if they’ve traveled to those places in the last 30 days.

The news comes after at least three cruise ships have run into coronavirus outbreaks or scares over the last few days, two of which were quarantined.

Multiple cruise ships have had coronavirus outbreaks or scares this week

Early Friday, 27 Chinese nationals were screened for the virus on one of Royal Caribbean’s ships, the Anthem of the Seas, following docking in New Jersey. Four of those passengers were sent to a local hospital for closer observation, though no cases of the coronavirus were confirmed.

The Anthem of the Seas was supposed to set off on a new trip on Saturday, but that has now been delayed; Royal Caribbean is offering passengers on that trip “a 1-day refund in the form of an onboard credit” plus “a pro-rated credit” if passengers “pre-purchased any packages such as, beverage, internet, or dining.” Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line did not immediately respond to questions about what they are doing for customers who’ve been banned but had previously scheduled travel.

Anthem of the Seas passengers have so far fared better than those on Carnival’s Diamond Princess ship, which is currently quarantined until February 19th off the coast of Yokohama, Japan after 61 cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed. A third ship, owned by the tourism arm of Malaysian conglomerate Genting, is currently quarantined outside Hong Kong after at least eight coronavirus cases were confirmed.

There have been over 30,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus since the outbreak began in late January, with the majority in China. At least 638 of those people have died, while over 1,700 people have recovered.

In the weeks since the outbreak began, the US government has tried to both limit travel to China and set up screenings and quarantines to reduce the chance of admitting any more contagious people into the country. The US State Department initially warned Americans not to travel to China, and told citizens who are already there to “consider departing using commercial means.”

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has since declared a public health emergency, and the government started diverting flights from China to the US to seven airports for advanced screening. President Trump followed that move with a proclamation that any foreign national who tries to enter the US within 14 days of having traveled to China will be turned away.

In turn, all of the major US airlines that operate routes to and from China have suspended those flights, as have a number of international airlines like Lufthansa and Air Canada.

None of those airlines went as far as denying travel to China, Hong Kong, or Macao passport holders before suspending their flights. But airlines also operate in a far more diverse and competitive global market. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines, meanwhile, collectively make up more than 30 percent of the overall global cruise ship market, behind only Carnival, and are therefore in a far more powerful position to take such drastic steps.

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