Should I cruise? It’s the question we’ve heard repeatedly here at the Cruise Passenger office.
The agony of wading through cancellation policies, weighing the cost against an unknown risk is turning what should be a pleasurable experience into a nightmare.
Each day, a new dilemma. We feel for our readers. We only wish there was a magic formula that calculated a concrete answer to the question: go or stay?
In this roundup, we bring you the very latest advice. And we’ll keep it updated so you have a reference point. By reading it you can work out the risk. The rest is up to you…
Firstly, some obvious questions:
- Am I going to a destination affected by coronavirus?
- Have I chosen flights that take me through a country from which I might not get home without a period of quarantine?
- Are my travel companions (or myself) at risk because of age or pre-existing conditions?
- Does my travel insurance cover cancellation?
Australia’s respected Smartraveller website (www.smartraveller.gov.au) says this today:
“The majority of cruise itineraries outside North Asia are operating as normal. If you’re concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on your cruise plans, check with your travel agent or cruise company and read and subscribe to our travel advisories for your destinations. See also the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) Australasia’s policies to prevent the spread of the virus, which all CLIA ocean member cruise lines are required to implement.
Dear Australian cruise passengers
- The majority of cruise itineraries outside Asia are operating as normal.
- Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) Australasia has adopted an enhanced CLIA member health policy which all CLIA ocean member cruise lines are required to follow to address the coronavirus.
- The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is working closely with the cruise line industry.
- If you have any health concerns, including access to your medication, speak to your cruise ship in the first instance.
- If required, you can contact DFAT’s Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135 from Australia or on +61 6261 3305 from overseas.
- The Australian Department of Health is providing regular updates on the coronavirus.
- For information on returning to Australia, please see the Australian Border Force website.
- For information on your cruise destinations, including transit destinations, see the travel advice for your destinations and subscribe for updates.
Great advice. But not definitive.
Respected American cruise journalist Arnie Weissmann says: “While a new and contagious disease is a serious and concerning matter, the danger it poses to us as individuals requires context. Currently, the World Health Authority’s only travel-related recommendation to curtail the spread of the virus is exit-screening procedures for travellers leaving China. (Guidelines have also been established for entry-screening elsewhere, though it’s positioned as discretionary rather than recommended.)
“On a related page titled, “How to protect yourself from coronavirus,” we’re primarily reminded that there are quite a number of infectious diseases in the world, and the advice offered is nearly identical to advice the WHO gave travellers before Covid-19 emerged:
- Wash your hands frequently;
- Cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze;
- Don’t stand close to people who are coughing, sneezing or have a fever;
- See a doctor if you’re experiencing respiratory issues;
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
He adds: “While it’s no fun to be reminded that we live in a world that includes infectious disease, the WHO nonetheless leaves it to individuals to evaluate the risks of diseases against the rewards of travel, pointing out that some places are more risky than others.
“Personally, I find comfort in statistics. For example, I know that I have a greater risk of being killed by daylight saving time than by terrorism; I’m safer boarding an airplane than drawing a bath; and I’m more at risk of being a victim of crime off of a cruise ship than aboard one.”
Again, good advice.
Here’s what Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise lines representative group, has to say:
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. The virus at the center of the current outbreak is an example of a novel coronavirus, as the virus does not match any other known virus. This new virus is referred to by health authorities as COVID-19.
Which countries have been affected?
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, where the vast majority of confirmed cases have occurred. According to global health authorities, additional cases have been confirmed around the world, including in North America and Europe, however the majority of confirmed cases remain confined to Asia.
What are the symptoms?
Patients with COVID-19 have reportedly experienced mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms including: • Fever • Cough • Shortness of breath • Breathing difficulties Sources: U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; World Health Organization
What steps can travellers take to protect themselves from COVID-19?
Leading health authorities are urging the same personal best practices that are standard for a typical flu season, such as the following:
- Avoid close contact with people who show signs of illness, including coughing or sneezing • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available
Are cruise lines changing their itineraries?
CLIA Cruise Lines are continually assessing and modifying policies and procedures as developments emerge. This includes the modification of itineraries, where needed, in light of evolving circumstances in some cases. Cruise passengers are encouraged to consult with individual cruise lines and/or travel providers to be informed of the latest guidance available.
Are cruise lines denying embarkation to anyone who has travelled from or through China?
All persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation, will be denied entry onboard a CLIA ocean-going cruise ship.
Are crew members and passengers subject to the same embarkation restrictions?
Yes. All persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation, will be denied entry onboard a CLIA ocean-going cruise ship.
How are cruise lines screening passengers for illness?
CLIA Cruise Lines conduct passenger screenings—including, in some cases, non-touch temperature readings—where appropriate, for guests and crew who have recently travelled from or through the affected areas consistent with prevailing guidance from global health authorities. Screening protocols allow for informed decisions on a case-by-case basis whether a guest or crewmember will be denied boarding. Based on the latest available information about the illness, and in consultation with medical professionals from member lines, CLIA has updated its sample Travel and Health Declaration/Questionnaire, which is available for reference on www.cruising.org.
What guidance are cruise ships following when making determinations regarding route restrictions?
CLIA and its member lines maintain close contact with leading global health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and others. Additionally, CLIA and its member lines remain in contact with port authorities and destinations around the world to ensure alignment on guidance and procedures.
What measures are in place onboard cruise ships in the event of passenger or crew illness?
Importantly, the cruise industry is one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of passengers and crew. Cruise lines take precautions to conduct passive as well as active screening of passengers and crew for illness prior to boarding when circumstances demand. Furthermore, CLIA ocean-going members implement outbreak prevention and response measures and their ships must be fitted with medical facilities and shipboard medical professionals available around the clock, 24/7, to provide initial medical care in the event of illness and to help prevent disease transmission.
Are cruise lines offering refunds to passengers whose trips has been impacted by COVID-19?
Passengers are encouraged to consult with individual cruise lines and/or travel providers with regard to compensation policies.
Here’s what the big cruise lines are doing:
Customers who have been in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the two weeks prior to their cruise will not be allowed to board. Carnival has also introduced “enhanced screening, prevention, and control measures for our ships, guests, and crew,” but the Carnival representative did not offer further detail about them.
Royal Caribbean cancelled all cruises in China and Hong Kong through the end of February.
For all other cruises, anyone who meets any of the following criteria will not be allowed to board:
- Has been in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Iran, South Korea, Lombardy, or Veneto in the 15 days prior to their cruise.
- Has come within six feet of someone who has been to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Iran, South Korea, Lombardy, or Veneto in the last 15 days.
- Reports feeling ill or shows symptoms that resemble the flu.
Customers in that group will have their trip refunded.
The following groups will be required to receive health screenings:
- People who have been in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, or Italy (aside from Lombardy and Veneto) in the 15 days before their cruise.
- People who may have been within six feet of anyone who has been to mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, or Italy in the last 15 days.
If a guest is found to have a fever or low blood oximetry, they will not be allowed to board the ship.
“These steps are intentionally conservative,” a Royal Caribbean representative said. “We apologise for the inconvenience created by these precautionary measures.”
Norwegian Cruise Line has cancelled all of its cruises in Asia through September.
“The safety, security and well-being of our guests and crew is our number one priority,” said a representative for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line.
Customers and crew members who have been to mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the 30 days before their cruise will not be allowed to board. Customers in that group will receive a refund.
For those still planning to sail, passengers who appear to have coronavirus symptoms will be evaluated before boarding. Passengers who show symptoms of any respiratory illness on board will receive a coronavirus screening and may be quarantined or removed from their ship, and Norwegian ships will receive more thorough cleanings and disinfection procedures.
What about travel insurance?
Travel insurance may or may not help. CHOICE has just posted a helpful guide on travelling and the coronavirus.
Don’t count on credit card insurance covering your cancellation.
A “cancel for any reason” costs about twice as much as the standard “named perils” policy but can offer partial refunds.
Also, consider additional coverage through a company like Medjet or an insurance plan that covers a medical evacuation.
Current status of coronavirus in Australia:
According to The Australian Government Department of Health, as at 06:30 hrs on 27 February 2020, we have 23 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Australia:
- 8 in Queensland
- 4 in New South Wales
- 7 in Victoria
- 3 in South Australia
- 1 in Western Australia
Fifteen of these cases are reported to have recovered. The remaining cases are in a stable condition, although the one patient in Western Australia is reported to be in a “serious condition” as confirmed by Australia’s PM this morning.
Eight cases are passengers who were on the Diamond Princess repatriation flight from Japan. They were in quarantine at the Manigurr-ma Village Howard Springs facility in Darwin when they tested positive to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Across the world
There have been about 81,310 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) and 2,771 reported deaths. Of confirmed cases reported globally, the case fatality rate is approximately 3.4%. The case fatality rate in countries and regions outside mainland China is 1.4%
The majority of cases of COVID-19 have been reported from mainland China. 3,246 cases have been reported from 42 countries and regions outside mainland China.
Since 26 February there have been 325 new cases reported outside of mainland China.
Where is the most risk
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advise there is a heightened risk of sustained local transmission or significant outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19) in:
- Northern Italy (Lombardia and Veneto)
- South Korea (Daegu and Cheongdo)
Do not travel to mainland China. This is the latest China travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Foreign nationals (excluding permanent residents) who are in mainland China, will not be allowed to enter Australia until 14 days after they have left or transited through mainland China.
Italy has confirmed cases of COVID-19, including deaths. Due to a heightened risk of sustained local transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) in parts of northern Italy, we now advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the regions of Lombardia and Veneto. We continue to advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the rest of Italy. There are measures in place to limit movement in northern Italy, and some public facilities are closed. Check with your travel provider on disruptions. Follow the advice of local authorities.If you have symptoms of respiratory illness, contact your doctor before travelling.
There are a range of serious risks to your health and safety in Iran, including now a heightened risk of sustained local transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For these reasons, we advise you to reconsider travel to Iran. If you’re in Iran, we advise you to consider leaving while commercial options are available. Note that some countries have put in place restrictions on travel to and from Iran.
Hong Kong has introduced additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Non-Hong Kong residents who have been to South Korea in the past 14 days will be denied entry to Hong Kong until further notice. The 14-day mandatory quarantine for travellers from mainland China continues. Some countries have put in place restrictions on travel to and from Hong Kong. See Health and Travel.
Based on advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, we now recommend you ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ in South Korea due to the heightened risk of sustained local transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). We now also advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Daegu and Cheongdo due to significant outbreaks of COVID-19 in those cities. If you are in South Korea, monitor your health closely and follow the advice of local authorities.
Based on advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, we now recommend you ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ in Japan due to a heightened risk of sustained local transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). Monitor your health closely and follow the advice of local authorities.
To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Singapore’s Ministry of Health has raised its health warning level to ‘orange’ (level 3 of 4). The standard of medical facilities and care is very high – similar to Australia’s. Expect additional health screening at borders. If you’ve travelled to mainland China in the past 14 days or hold a PRC passport, you won’t be permitted to transit or enter Singapore. Check with your airline or tour operator for the latest update. If you have symptoms of respiratory illness, contact your doctor before travelling.
What’s happening with flights?
Airlines are cutting back their flight schedules in response to falling demand — especially for flights in the Asian region.
So you may have to factor in changes to your arrival and departure times, as well as delays caused by virus screening at airports.
In general, it’s a good idea to check directly with your airline if your flight is still departing as scheduled.
According to ABC News, below are some of the changes you may have to contend with if you’re flying Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin or Tigerair:
- Qantas and Jetstar have cut back their flights to China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Sydney-to-Shanghai Qantas route has been suspended. But Qantas long-haul flights to the US and UK haven’t been affected so far
- Jetstar Australia flights to mainland China have been suspended, while its airlines in Singapore, Japan, and Vietnam have stopped flights to China and are also reducing their flights across the region
- Virgin has cut back its flights to holiday destinations, while Tigerair and Virgin have stopped flying to Hong Kong
- Tiger also quit flying several domestic routes, including Adelaide-Sydney, Sydney-Cairns, and Hobart-Gold Coast, noting coronavirus has had a “weakening effect” on domestic, as well as international demand.
If you are on board an international flight and show signs of an infectious disease:
- the airline must report you to biosecurity officers
- biosecurity officers will assess you before you get off the plane
- you may be isolated or referred to a hospital
Vote in this year’s special Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.