Coronavirus and travel: Why do viruses spread so quickly on cruise ships?


The rate at which coronavirus has spread through cruise ships has been a source of amazement. By the time authorities lifted the quarantine on the Diamond Princess, 17 per cent of the 3700 passengers and crew had contracted the virus.

Large numbers of people in a confined space makes for a petri-dish environment where viruses can spread quickly. The industrial-size food servings at ship's buffets are a problem if the virus is present in the food preparation area or among staff who work there. Big cruise ships are likely to have large numbers of elderly passengers who might not be as healthy as the general population and that puts them at greater risk. When a cruise is completed, an infection can linger onboard if there are sick crew members or environmental contamination.

Good hygiene is vital for cruisers. Wash your hands and use hand sanitiser frequently and especially before meals. Avoid buffet meals in favour of hot food cooked to order. Use disposable cups instead of drinking glasses, keep well hydrated and note that smaller cruise vessels are less prone to mass infections.