Viking suspends all cruises until end of April due to coronavirus

Cruise company Viking has suspended all cruises until the end of April in response to the coronavirus. 

In a letter sent by the company's chairman, Torstein Hagen, to passengers, Viking said passengers booked on cruises from March 12 to April 30 would receive a full refund or a voucher for a future cruise valued at 125 per cent of their original booking. The suspension applies to both river and ocean cruises.

"Operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning," Hagen wrote.

"As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done."

"In recent days we have had an experience where a river cruise guest in Southeast Asia was exposed to COVID-19 while in transit on an international airline. While this guest is not exhibiting symptoms, she has been placed in quarantine. Separately, the remaining 28 guests will also be quarantined."

Viking has been one of several cruise companies to introduce flexible change and cancellation policies in the wake of the virus outbreak. 

The company is allowing passengers 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.

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.

On Tuesday the Australian government's travel advice website, Smart Traveller, 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."