Several cruise ships currently operating off Asian coastlines have recently captured much media attention in light of the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus (referred to as 2019-nCoV or Covid-19), which continues to rage at its origin, in mainland China.
Reports have swirled about the Diamond Princess, which carries over 3,700 unfortunates who remain quarantined dockside in Yokohama, Japan. At last count, 218 of its passengers and crew members have come down with the virus, with the rest being confined to quarters.
The Holland America vessel, MS Westerdam, has only now found safe harbor in Cambodia after spending two weeks at sea, having been barred from docking in several other Asian countries.
Cruise operations in Asia have inarguably been impacted, and major cruise carriers are still regrouping as they assess the impact of current port restrictions in the region to determine how far into the future their planned sailings will need to be either canceled or altered.
If you’re among those booked for an upcoming cruise near Asia, you’re probably concerned about contracting the coronavirus, despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has thus far not issued any travel or trade restrictions concerning the region.
Understandably, the limited number of cases that have cropped up outside China seems to have also spooked vacationers who are booked to sail aboard cruise ships in other parts of the globe. The question becomes, are cruise-goers at heightened risk of contracting the virus and do they now need to change their travel plans?
While the potential for global spread of the infection is quite real, and being taken very seriously, experts emphasize the importance of maintaining perspective about the present severity and scope of the illness.
In a media briefing held on February 10, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that 99 percent of reported cases are still in China, with most cases being mild and fatalities reported at two percent.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Director also praised China’s containment methods, saying: “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”
Dr. John Lynch, a specialist in infectious disease and travel medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told CNN, “I think there’s extremely low risk of getting novel coronavirus on a cruise ship.” He likewise emphasized that the vast majority of cases are found in China’s Hubei province, where massive detection, treatment and isolation efforts are underway.
When it comes to international cruising specifically, managing editor of Cruise Critic, Chris Gray Faust emphasized to CNN in an interview how important it is for media audiences to remember that Diamond Princess has been the only instance where coronavirus infection has appeared aboard a cruise ship, and it remains quarantined in Japan.
Rigorous surveillance, screening and containment measures are being enforced cooperatively by health agencies worldwide, and cruise lines aren’t slacking either. Cruise carriers have their own policies and procedures in place to ensure that the infection isn’t introduced onboard their vessels.
They also know that, in close quarters, hand hygiene is key. Lynch said that hand-washing with soap and warm water, as well as frequent and thorough use of hand sanitizers throughout the day, truly minimizes any spread of infection onboard a vessel.
“The cruise lines always have people…that are either directing you over to the sink, or they have hand sanitizer in their hands and they’re trying to squirt your hands with it,” Wilson commented, advising that passengers always make use of them.
A video message from Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy to U.S. citizen passengers on board the @HALcruises #Westerdam: pic.twitter.com/XaXZzZbiTm
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), whose membership makes up over 90 percent of ocean-going cruise capacity worldwide, has also released enhanced protocols in response to the coronavirus.
“CLIA members are to deny boarding to all persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation,” reads one of its criteria. Another guideline demands that “all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having COVID-19,” also be denied boarding.
CLIA concluded its statement with an assurance that, “the cruise industry is one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of those on board, with outbreak prevention and response measures in place year-round.”
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