It’s hardly smooth sailing for the cruise industry amid a slew of virus outbreaks onboard some ships.
There have been more than 100 confirmed coronavirus cases on board the quarantined Diamond Princess Cruise ship off the coast of Japan, and another one of its ships, Caribbean Princess, was authorized to turn around due to a norovirus outbreak. It was on a two-week Caribbean trip before it sailed back to Florida’s Port Everglades.
The ship ended its journey nearly a week early "out of an abundance of caution" and the passengers are being treated by the onboard medical team, a spokesperson for Princess Cruises told FOX Business on Tuesday. Caribbean Princess was denied entry to ports in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, according to the latter's Ministry of Health.
"This is a highly unusual development and we share the disappointment of our guests," a Princess Cruises spokesperson said. "However, the health and safety of our guests and crew is our top priority, and in working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it was decided out of an abundance of caution, in this specific instance, to discontinue the cruise. "
And doctors say while the chance of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus – which causes sickness that can range from a regular cold to more serious diseases like pneumonia -- is apparent, the likelihood of transmission is still low. The main concern in the U.S. is still the flu, said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. When it comes to staying healthy onboard a cruise ship it’s important to wash your hands, avoid touching your face and shared surfaces like handrails or serving utensils on the buffet line.
“Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and protecting your coughs and sneezes is most important,” Glatter told FOX Business.
It’s important to avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose, Glatter advises, adding that a medical mask could help reduce the chance of transmission.
The CDC reports that at least 299 passengers and 22 crew members traveling on the California-based Princess Cruise Lines are now sick with norovirus, a stomach bug with symptoms that include stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea that affects up to 21 million people living in the U.S. each year.
"Norovirus is commonly spread on cruise ships because people are in close quarters," Glatter said.
The coronavirus, meanwhile, was first detected last month in Wuhan, a city in central China with 11 million people. Officials said the virus likely spread initially from animals to people, like SARS and MERS. There have been more than 43,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally, with 13 in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Many cruise lines have changed their sailing schedules to China and in or around Asia as the deadly coronavirus has spread to more than two dozen countries. As a result, a slew of cruise lines has canceled trips altogether. And ports in Japan, Taipei and Hong Kong have prevented ships with passengers infected with the coronavirus onboard from docking. Cruise lines have also mandated screening and prevention control programs on board in addition to denying passengers from boarding if they've been in close contact with anyone diagnosed with the coronavirus.
"Our ships and medical staff are well equipped to prevent and contain the spread of contagious illnesses. We are taking extra precautions and are being guided in consultation with international and local health authorities," a spokesperson for Princess Cruises said, adding: "Our ships are cleaned thoroughly and regularly with a disinfectant proven to be highly effective against contagious illnesses."
The ongoing health scares, however, could potentially sink spring break trip sales, industry experts say.
“A big question around pricing will be what happens if lines begin redeploying their Asia-based ships to other global regions?" said Chris Gray Faust, the managing editor of Cruise Critic. "Historically, we’ve seen some price fluctuations in similar situations, when there’s an oversaturation of ships in a region, due to redeployment. Most recently, we saw some of that as lines moved their ships from Cuba, following updated travel policies for American travelers. We’ll have to wait and see what the cruise lines do with their ships before we see a real pricing impact.”
Other industry experts aren’t worried about the possibility of becoming infected with norovirus or the coronavirus. Stewart Chiron, a cruise expert for trade publication TheCruiseGuy.com, has been on several cruise ships with red alerts.
“They’ll start to limit the people to people contact," Chiron, who spoke with FOX Business while onboard Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess in the Caribbean, which was not quarantined. "At the buffets, you are not allowed to touch utensils, you can’t touch the food, a gloved crew member will do it for you. Bread baskets are removed from the tables. There are different protocols for different stages. I’m not at all concerned that my safety is in any danger.”
Princess Cruises has been updating travelers via its website. "The company continues to look for the most effective ways to help keep our guests healthy, which includes mental health," Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz said in a statement on the company's site.