Adopting one of the most restrictive responses to the coronavirus outbreak, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has announced it would bar any traveller with a passport from China, Hong Kong or Macao from its ships throughout the month of February.
The new rule is stricter than the cruise line’s previous requirement that called for enhanced health screening for holders of passports from China, Hong Kong and Macao and a ban on travellers boarding any of the cruise line’s ships if they have visited China, Hong Kong or Macao in the previous 15 days.
A representative of Royal Caribbean could not be reached for comment Friday to explain the decision, but a statement posted on the company’s website said it was made “after consultation with medical experts and public health authorities … plus changes in various countries’ requirements and regulations, along with our desire to ensure that we are able to provide a great vacation experience, while we protect our guests and crew”.
The announcement comes as cruise lines hustle to respond to an outbreak that has quarantined passengers on at least one ship and forced other cruise companies to implement a series of new health regulations for their passengers.
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The impact of the outbreak on the cruise industry could be substantial, considering that cruise companies have in the past few years turned their attention to China to try to lure its estimated 83 million potential cruise customers.
Cruise lines have overhauled ships to attract Chinese travellers, modifying the food, entertainment and onboard amenities. In 2017, Princess Cruise Lines launched its first ship designed specifically for Chinese travellers.
In a coronavirus outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, since Monday, the number of cases climbed to 61, including 2 Kiwis. About 3700 passengers and crew are on board. Passengers began their journey January 20 at Yokohama and were supposed to have ended their trip February 4.
In response to the coronavirus emergency, cruise ships will deny boarding to passengers of any nationality who have visited, or travelled from or through, China, including Hong Kong and Macao, within 14 days of their sailing date, the world’s largest cruise industry association announced Friday.
Cruise lines will also screen passengers before they board and conduct “enhanced screenings” for those who show symptoms of the deadly virus.
Passengers who have cared for or been in contact with anyone diagnosed with or suspected of having the virus in the last two weeks will be turned away too. This includes people who have been around anyone being monitored for possible exposure.
The Cruise Line International Association, whose members operate 90 per cent of the world’s oceangoing voyages, cited the health and safety of passengers and crew members as the reason for the new protocols, which took effect Friday. They beefed up earlier rules issued January 30.
“These enhanced policies … continue to allow for informed decisions on a case-by-case basis whether a guest or crew member will be permitted to board,” the association said in a statement.
Cruise line association members include Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises.
The number of cases of people infected with the virus has risen to more than 31,500 worldwide. The death toll in China was at 636 as of late Friday. It was first detected in Wuhan, China, but has now spread to other parts of the world.
– Los Angeles Times