In what appears a significant escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, two cruise lines this morning have around 7,000 passengers and crew in lockdown aboard their ships while scores of cruise calls are scratched and thousands of flights cancelled.
No-one is sure when the travel industry’s growing paralysis, costing billions of dollars and threatening thousands of holidays, will stop. And only recently have clear policies emerged about what passengers should do about the virus and their booked holidays.
The latest outbreak aboard Dream Cruises World Dream led the liner to be turned back from Taiwan. It is now at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal with some 4,000 passengers and crew in lockdown – an unknown number of Australians are among them.
The line has also asked an additional 5,000 past passengers to contact them if they show symptoms. It has admitted it sailed four times after a passenger was diagnosed with the virus – meaning many could have been exposed.
Both Hong Kong and Taiwan have closed their ports to cruise ships.
Cruise Lines International Association, the industry body, has issued new guidelines, saying: “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 for ocean-going guests and crew who have recently travelled from or through China, including Hong Kong and Macau:
∙ CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.
∙ CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having Coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to Novel Coronavirus.
∙ CLIA Members are to conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected Novel Coronavirus.
CLIA’s statement noted: “The cruise industry is one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of those onboard, with outbreak prevention and response measures in place year-round. Furthermore, ships must be fitted with onboard medical facilities, with shipboard medical professionals available around the clock, 24/7, to provide initial medical care in the event of illness and help prevent disease transmission.”
Some 3,700 passengers and crew have been held on board the Diamond Princess in Japan since February 4, when a guest from Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus. The lockdown is expected to end on February 19.
According to Japan’s health ministry, five more Australians are among 41 new cases of coronavirus on board the Diamond Princess, including five Australians. The number of confirmed cases is now 61 among which are seven Australian passengers. None are in a serious condition but will be transferred to Tokyo and other cities for treatment.
There are three patients that are aged between 20 and 40 and the remaining 38 are between 50 and 80 years and most are in their 70s.
Passengers have sent out messages over social media, claiming they cannot leave their cabins and are being fed intermittently by masked staff.
But one 74-year-old chirpy British passenger has given the world his version of life on board – and it’s gone viral, thanks to his laconic sense of humour.
Diabetic David Abel told a British TV interviewer: “I hadn’t eaten for 16, 17 hours, that was a major concern for me, so I couldn’t take my insulin, if I did, I would be comatose, most likely.
“So that was a major problem. It’s now been resolved, we are getting meals regularly, we are getting glasses of water given to us regularly, we only get one hot drink a day, I’d love to have more than that but that’s it.
“It’s a horrible situation for most passengers onboard, being stuck here, confined to the cabin. We are not allowed outside the room.”
He continued: “It’s been a two-week luxury cruise, 15 days, now it’s a very different atmosphere indeed.
“Every passenger is confined to their cabins, no room service and can’t go into the dining room for meals, so we have very little choice.”
In one of his videos, David recalled how a starving woman was screamed at for leaving her room in search of food after the crew had failed to serve her dinner.
“One lady hadn’t had an evening meal served last night and she went outside of her cabin door to try and find somebody, and she was literally shouted at and told get back in your room.”
Other passengers have shared pictures of the meals they were getting on board.
In the latest update today, Princess Cruises says that guests in inside and non-balcony staterooms are now permitted to get fresh air on a rotating basis, as directed by Public Health authorities. They are also providing many in-room activities and additional entertainment options.
Mr Abel shared on his Facebook that the passengers with inside cabins are allowed to walk on the deck for 90 minutes under the supervision of quarantine officers. They must also stay one metre apart from one another and not make contact or congregate in groups.
Australian couple share their experience
Queensland couple Paul and Coralie Williamson consider themselves lucky to be in a balcony cabin with access to fresh air. While their health is fine, they face a challenge of surviving in the cramped space and going ‘stir crazy’.
“It’s got an ensuite, but we can’t both walk past the end of the bed at the same time, so, you know, it is smaller than a motel room,” Ms Williamson told the ABC.
The couple have been kept informed through broadcasts made every few hours, but they first learned about the outbreak through the media.
“It is surreal, it’s quite bizarre,” Mr Williamson, a former school principal told the ABC.
Irregular hours of food delivery have also added to the challenging situation passengers are faced on board. Ms Williamson shares that breakfast is not being delivered until 10:00am and dinner comes after 9:00pm.
The couple is also finding innovative ways to keep themselves occupied.
“We’ve both got Fitbits so we’re trying to get our steps going and doing some stretches and those sorts of physical things, as well as trying to come up with a bit of a routine [for] our entertainment,” Mr Williamson told the ABC.
They are rationing their movie stash and planning to document their experiences on the inside.
“Already we’re forgetting what day things happen, so we’ve got a bit of a diary going now, so that will keep us busy,” Mr Williamson said.
After 34 years of marriage, it’s a test the pair say they will take in their stride.
“If I’m going be stuck in a room with anyone I would rather it be Paul than anyone else,” Ms Williamson said.
“So it’s OK. We will need to go for a long walk on the beach when we get home to the coast.”
But some are making their own fun…
Other passengers are making their own fun. Aun Na Tan, her husband and two children are feeling upbeat as they are confined to a four-bunk cabin. Their stateroom has no windows, but they are making the most of their time by playing a Chinese tile game called mahjong.
“So far, we are being asked to remain in our rooms, so we haven’t seen anyone else other than the crew supporting us by bringing our food, bottles of water and soft drinks and taking rubbish away,” Ms Tan told the ABC.
“Our family is trying to stay positive and calm.”
Princess Cruises has set up a series of regional hotlines for the immediate family of guests onboard the ship:
North America: 800-693-7222
New Zealand: 0800-002141
United Kingdom: 0-800-014-8339
Immediate family assistance (anyone from any country, including guests onboard can call): 872-201-5236
Princess has cancelled the ship’s February 4 and 12 cruise. Holland America Line, Cunard, Seabourn and Royal Caribbean have all announced additional cancellations or changes.
There are currently over 24,500 cases of the coronavirus diagnosed in 25 countries worldwide, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organisation. There have been 492 deaths from the disease thus far, all except one in China.