Coronavirus and cruise ships: Australian government, US state department issue warnings for cruises

The Australian government's travel advice website, Smart Traveller, has issued a warning about travelling on cruise ships as the coronavirus continues to spread. 

On the website's advice page for the coronavirus outbreak, Smart Traveller advises "Australians, particularly those with underlying health concerns, should reconsider taking an overseas cruise at this time due to COVID-19". 

"If in doubt, consult a medical professional before travelling."

"There have been instances of cruise ships being put into quarantine, countries preventing disembarkation of ships or denying entry to ports. The itineraries of a number of cruise ships have changed. Disruptions to cruise ship itineraries due to COVID-19 can have significant consequences for travellers. The situation is fluid and you can expect further disruptions.

"Repatriation from cruise ships affected by COVID-19 should not be relied upon as an option."

The Smart Traveller advice currently applies only to overseas cruises. 

Many cruise companies have introduced flexible cancellation and change policies as a result of the virus. 

Viking cruises will allow guests booked on any upcoming 2020, 2021 or 2022 cruise to postpone their cruise at any time up until 24 hours before it departs, without cancellation fees. They will receive a Future Cruise Voucher for the full value of the amount paid which will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance.

Royal Caribbean Group, which includes Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea, initiated a 'Cruise with Confidence' initiative. Guests on cruises booked to depart before July 31, 2020 can cancel their booking up to 48 hours before sailing and obtain a Future Cruise Credit. This credit must be redeemed on sailings departing before December 31, 2021.

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Princess Cruises is allowing guests booked on cruises departing between March 9 and April 3 to cancel up to 72 hours before boarding time and receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for all cancellation fees. For cruises scheduled to depart between April 4 and May 31 guests must cancel by 31 March to receive the same credit.

The advice comes after the US State Department advised American citizens, particularly those with underlying health conditions, not to travel by cruise ship. 

Many cruise companies have amended their change or cancellation policies as a result of the virus outbreak. Viking cruises will allow guests booked on any upcoming 2020, 2021 or 2022 cruise to postpone their cruise at any time up until 24 hours before it departs, without cancellation fees. They will receive a Future Cruise Voucher for the full value of the amount paid which will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance.

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea are allowing passengers booked to depart on cruises before July 31 to cancel up to 48 hours before sailing. 

Princess Cruises is allowing guests booked on cruises departing between March 9 and April 3 to cancel up to 72 hours before boarding time and receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for all cancellation fees. For cruises scheduled to depart between April 4 and May 31 guests must cancel by 31 March to receive the same credit.

Meanwhile, the cruise ship forced to idle for days off the California coast because of a cluster of coronavirus cases aboard arrived in port Monday, and dozen of passengers began to leave for military bases where they would be quarantined or to return to their home countries.

The Grand Princess pulled into the Port of Oakland with more than 3500 people aboard - 21 confirmed to be infected with the new virus. Passengers lining the balconies waved and some left the cabins where they had been in isolation to go on deck.

As the ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge to enter the harbor, passenger Karen Schwartz Dever said "everyone was hollering and clapping."

Twenty-three people who needed acute medical care had been taken off the ship by late Monday afternoon, but it was not clear how many of them had tested positive for the virus, said Shawn Boyd, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.

Live TV footage showed at least one passenger, an older man wearing a face mask, climbing onto a stretcher and being lifted into the back of an ambulance. Officials have said the unloading will take up to three days.

"Our intent is to basically disembark about half the passengers today. Everyone will be screened initially today," said Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services Services.

Many of the nearly 240 Canadians on board left the ship after the critically ill and stood outside two tents displaying Canadian flags. Canada and the UK were among the countries sending chartered flights to retrieve their citizens.

US passengers will be flown or bused from the port - chosen for its proximity to an airport and a military base - to bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and a 14-day quarantine. The ship is carrying people from 54 countries, and foreigners will be whisked home.

About 1100 crew members, 19 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere after passengers are unloaded, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

According to the World Health Organisation, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

The Grand Princess had been held off the coast since Wednesday because of evidence that it was the breeding ground for more than 20 infections tied to a previous voyage.

Passengers from the previous voyage have tested positive in California and other states. Six Canadians who were on the Grand Princess from Feb. 11 to 21 were also confirmed to have the virus.

The California governor and Oakland mayor sought to reassure people that none of the cruise ship passengers would be exposed to the public before completing the quarantine. Officials were trying to decide where the ship and its crew would go next.

Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.

with AP

See also: Coronavirus: Is it time to cancel your travel plans for 2020?

See also: Airlines waive change fees for flights in wake of coronavirus 

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