What to Know About Cruising During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Some of the most astonishing travel-related coronavirus news has involved cruise ships. For cruisers trying to get a better understanding of the complex situation amid the outbreak, we’ve compiled some of the latest details.

What to Know About Cruising During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The “Diamond Princess” is currently being quarantined in Japan.

Photo by PJ_Photography/Shutterstock

It’s become very clear that the current novel coronavirus outbreak (also known as COVID-19) is going to have a serious and lasting impact on the Chinese and global economies, as well as on the travel and tourism industries. But the outbreak has had a particularly pointed effect on cruising, with headlines about quarantines and passengers stranded at sea making cruise ships the focus of some of our greatest fears and of the sometimes controversial approaches to containment.

Perhaps one of the most attention-grabbing stories has been the 14-day quarantine of more than 3,700 passengers and crew onboard Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess (currently docked in Yokohama, Japan) following the discovery that several people on the ship had tested positive for coronavirus, according to reports from The Points Guy and others.

As of this week, the number of people with confirmed coronavirus cases onboard had grown to more than 450 passengers. According to USA Today, several American passengers were allowed to fly back to the United States on Sunday. A new statement from Princess Cruises confirmed that the Japanese government was planning to allow passengers from Canada, Australia and Hong Kong to also repatriate subject to an additional 14-day quarantine upon arrival in their native countries.

For many, this developing story has been the stuff of travel nightmares.

There were also reports that passengers aboard a Holland America Line cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, had been prevented from disembarking in five countries in Asia. The ship finally anchored in the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, where officials from the Cambodia Health Ministry have been testing the 255 guests and 747 crew members for coronavirus, according to a statement from Holland America Line. One female passenger has tested positive for coronavirus, the cruise line reported.

“We are in close coordination with some of the leading health experts from around the world,” Dr. Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Holland America Line, said in a statement. “These experts are working with the appropriate national health authorities to investigate and follow-up with any individuals who may have come in contact with the guest.”

Holland America Line has canceled the February 29 cruise on the Westerdam, which was due to depart Yokohama for a 14-day round-trip sailing around Japan.

Numerous other cruise lines have canceled and altered itineraries as well. Cruise review and news site Cruise Critic has been amassing those changes and cancellations in an online story that it is updating regularly.

Cruise lines’ boarding policies

Cruise industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) recently developed protocols for its members in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. The organization said that members are to deny boarding to anyone who has traveled from or visited China, Hong Kong, and Macau (including airport transfers) within 14 days of embarkation and should also deny boarding to anyone who has had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having coronavirus. CLIA members should also conduct preboarding screening measures, the organization advised.

“Given the evolving nature of the ongoing 2019-novel coronavirus outbreak—and based upon prevailing guidance from global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO)—CLIA members have adopted the following enhanced protocols,” the association stated.

Some cruise lines have developed even more drastic policies than what CLIA recommends.

Norwegian Cruise Lines’ current policy is that any guests who hold a Chinese, Hong Kong, or Macau passport are currently unable to board any ships, regardless of residency. Additionally, guests who have traveled from or visited China, Hong Kong, or Macau within 30 days of their embarkation will not be allowed to board.

Royal Caribbean International initially had a similar policy, but it recently updated its policy to a version more similar to CLIA’s recommendations, stating that it will deny boarding to any guest who has traveled from, to, or through mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the past 15 days and any guest who has come in contact with anyone from mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the past 15 days. There will be mandatory health screenings for guests who are uncertain about contact with said individuals or who report feeling unwell. Anyone who is denied boarding will receive a full refund.

Cruise ports have been affected as well. Cruise Critic reports that several ports have closed to cruise ships entirely, including Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, and that several other ports are not allowing Chinese passengers to disembark there, including the Bahamas, Singapore, Vietnam, India, Japan, and the Philippines.

What kind of an impact will this ultimately have on the cruising industry?

CLIA members reported that cruises in Asia represent just 10 percent of their deployments for 2020. However, there are around 4.2 million cruise passengers from Asia, according to CLIA, which represents the world’s third largest cruise market after North America and Western Europe.

“Right now, it’s too early to tell what any projected impact on the industry might be. The most immediate effect is directly related to cruises in Asia, as lines continue to cancel and/or alter cruises in the region—and those changes extend into the weeks and months to come. Right now, there are no cruises that sail to or from China or Hong Kong,” said Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of Cruise Critic.

Added Gray Faust, “Outside of Asia, most cruises are sailing as planned—with strict boarding policies and procedures, in line with recommendations from global health organizations.”

This story was originally published on February 7, 2020, and was updated on February 18, 2020, to include current information.

>> Next: The Coronavirus Travel Bans Are Unprecedented. But Will They Work?

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
More from AFAR