Six cases have been confirmed and more are undergoing tests in Australia as the travelling public are waking up to the full extent of the coronavirus.

At Monday, the World Health Organisation said 80 have died and 4,593 cases were confirmed around the world, the majority in China. Another 5,794 were suspected within China.  Beijing cancelled New Year celebrations, and several cities are closed in a bid to contain the virus and today the government has halted all tour group travel.

Cruise lines operating in Shanghai have suspended operations, offering refunds or rescheduling, due to the outbreak.

Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas, Costa Atlantica, Costa Venezia, and MSC Splendida have cancelled their departures from the International Cruise Terminal in Baoshan District.

“The decision was made to fully coordinate with disease prevention and ensure the health and safety of passengers and crews,” Royal Caribbean said.

Costa Cruises has suspended all operations from China until February 4. Operations at other major Chinese ports have also been halted.

Australia is the eighth country to have a confirmed case:  the others are Thailand, South Korean, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and the US.

The cruise industry is reacting swiftly.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said that cruise lines are in the better position to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection because of their stringent health procedures.

“Cruise lines take precautions to screen passengers for illness prior to boarding and all ships are fitted with medical facilities and onboard medical personnel 24/7 to treat passengers swiftly in the event of illness and prevent further transmission.

“CLIA cruise lines maintain close contact with health professionals and regulators around the world and are one of the most well-equipped and experienced industries when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions.”

Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced “non-touch temperature screenings for all passengers embarking from Chinese ports. Guest who register a body temperature screening of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius or higher will not be allowed to board and will be directed to seek local medical treatment. In addition, guests travelling from Wuhan, China or who have been in the city in the last 30 days will be denied boarding,” said a NCL spokesperson.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia Pacific will not permit passengers who visited Wuhan including those who are from the region to board their ships.

“We are closely monitoring regional developments and coordinating with health authorities to assess and enhance our safety protocols. As a precaution, guest who travelled through or are from the Wuhan region will not be permitted to board our ships.

“All other guests embarking in China will receive enhanced, secondary health screenings before embarkation. Additionally, we are increasing medical staff, providing medical consultations for our guests and consulting special, onboard sanitizations to ensure the health of our guests and crew during their voyage,” said a RCC spokesperson.

Princess Cruises in Asia said there are no plans to change their itineraries and if necessary, the line will introduce pre-boarding disease reporting, specific temperature and questionnaire screening for passengers arriving from affected areas.

“Although the risks to our guests, crew and business remain very low, Princess Cruises is closely monitoring the news about the new coronavirus.

“Our medical experts are coordinating closely with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to implement any recommended screening, prevention and control measures for our ships. This will include pre-boarding disease reporting, specific temperature and questionnaire screening for persons arriving from affected areas, disease screening for all cases of acute respiratory illness presenting to our medical centres and environmental disinfection of the ship,” said a spokesperson.

Crystal Cruises said: “The company is closely monitoring developments related to the coronavirus, including recommendations from the World Health Organization, whose latest update (issued January 24) continues to advise against the application of any restrictions on international travel as a result of the illness.

“In an abundance of caution and as preventive measures, Crystal has updated its pre-boarding public health questionnaire to include questions concerning the coronavirus as well as screening guests at the pier before they board for body temperatures of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and/or showing signs of respiratory issues.
“If guests are determined unwell to travel, they will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, if they do not have insurance. Additionally, the line will deny boarding of any person who has traveled to Hubei Province or Wuhan, China in the 14 days prior to embarkation. The company has also canceled non-essential day visits to its ships when they are in port.”

There have been hundreds of confirmed cases of the virus since the outbreak according to the National Health Commission. The virus originated in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province and has spread to other major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

The US has confirmed its first case of the virus from a man who returned home to Seattle after travelling to Wuhan.

Authorities in Australia, the UK, US, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan have also stepped up screening of air travellers from Wuhan.

Wuhan has imposed a total travel ban with all planes, trains and local public transportation suspended. The lockdown means locals are not allowed to leave the city and region. Four other Chinese cities including Huanggang, Xiantao, Ezhou and Chibi have also shut down railway stations and suspended long-distance buses and ferry services.

Major cruise lines are working closely with port and health authorities to strengthen passenger screening procedures.

In 2003, Asia Pacific was hit by the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic when more than 8000 people were diagnosed with the virus in 37 countries around the region. The epidemic prompted many lines to divert their ships which caused major disruption in the tourism sector but China has since grown into a major cruise market.