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2 cruise ships quarantined in Asia with coronavirus. What next for the cruise industry?

PortandTerminal.com, February 5, 2020

TOKYO – It seemed like it was going to happen sooner or later during this current coronavirus crisis and now it has.

More than 5,300 people are now being quarantined on two cruise ships off Hong Kong and Japan amid concerns passengers and crew were inadvertently exposed to the coronavirus by infected passengers.

A small boat is pictured next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship as it sits anchored off of Yokohama, Japan
A small boat is pictured next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship as it sits anchored off of Yokohama, Japan in quarantine

In Japan, 3,700 people are facing at least two weeks of quarantine on the Diamond Princess anchored off of the port of Yokohama after health officials confirmed on Wednesday that 10 people on the ship had tested positive for coronavirus. More cases on board are a possibility.

READ: Coronavirus. How bad are things going to get?

The second ship, the World Dream, is docked at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal with 1,800 people quarantined on board, the city’s Department of Health said Wednesday.

The cruise industry faced similar threats during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003 when cruise lines were all forced to adopt a SARS policy which was geared towards preventing the disease from getting onboard.

This time it’s different. Whatever preventative measures that were being taken have failed and infected passengers were able to board TWO different cruise ships owned by TWO different companies. “This is not a one-off fluke” is the message being sent to cruise passengers globally.

Where does the cruise industry go from here?

It’s a PR nightmare to be sure. Quarantined passengers are being patient for now but how long will that last? The cruise industry can expect to see a steady stream of negative publicity flood the airwaves and social media over the next two weeks. They have over 5,000 bored, worried and frustrated passengers to manage, each with a smart-phone, wi-fi and lots of time on their hands.

Image published by Twitter Handle @Daxa_Tw of officials in masks and protective clothing on one of the decks of the Diamond Princess cruise ship

Case in point. Worried cruise passenger David Abel posted the video below from onboard the Diamond Princess complaining that passengers had not been fed in over 16 hours. This is of particular worry to Mr Abel who is an insulin-dependent diabetic who relies on careful and regular monitoring of his nutritional intake.

Food issue:

Posted by David Abel on Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Then there’s the issue of passengers who were meant to board the two ships during various port stops along their itineraries. What are they meant to do now? Will they be reimbursed? One passenger who was planning on boarding the Diamond Princess in Taiwan with his elderly mother expressed his uncertainty today in a Tweet. How the cruise lines sort out compensating passengers like Mark Burnett below will determine how likely or not other passengers will be to risk booking tickets on other cruise ships.

For their part, Carnival cruise issued a letter advising that passengers who have been to China in the past two weeks will not be allowed to board a Carnival cruise ship.  Going one step further, the Bahamian government is not allowing anyone to disembark from a cruise ship that has visited China in the past 20 days.

READ: Royal Caribbean Cruises cancels more China sailings on virus worries

Expect to see increasingly tough measures along these lines to keep passengers who pose the slightest risk off of cruise ships altogether. And as they did during the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, you can expect to more cruise ships rerouted away from Asian ports as well cancellations of port calls at high-risk destinations. Heavy ticket discounting is also a certainty as well as cruise lines try to entice those passengers who are will to take the risk to purchase tickets.

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