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Cruise industry blasts B.C. officials’ warnings to cancel sailings over COVID-19

Click to play video 'Health officials warn British Columbians to skip cruises during COVID-19 outbreak' Health officials warn British Columbians to skip cruises during COVID-19 outbreak
With two of the latest COVID-19 cases connected to cruise ship passengers, B.C. health officials are warning people to avoid going on cruises right now. – Mar 7, 2020

The cruise industry is fighting back against B.C. health officials’ warnings that people should consider cancelling their vacations at sea over COVID-19 concerns.

In a statement late Saturday, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said it has already taken proactive measures to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus, including stringent pre-boarding screening procedures.

“With the proactive measures put in place by the cruise industry based on prevailing guidance from global health authorities, arbitrary restrictions are unwarranted and could have long-term detrimental effects on the Canadian people and economy,” the statement reads.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Booked a cruise and want to cancel? Here’s what you need to know

While announcing the province’s six latest cases of the new coronavirus Saturday morning, both chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said people should avoid large gatherings as much as possible, particularly those at risk of contracting the virus such as the elderly.

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Dix, in particular, urged people to reconsider their travel plans before the 2020 cruise season begins in April.

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“The federal government and the cruise industry and ourselves and many others are in discussions, and will be in discussions about that,” Dix said.

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“But those who are considering going on cruises, who have bought tickets on cruises, need to very seriously consider their position. And if you’re asking my advice, I say don’t go.”

The comments echoed those of Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who told reporters Friday that people should “think twice” before booking a cruise.

READ MORE: ‘Think twice’ before booking a cruise vacation: Canada’s top health official

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The CLIA said it wants to engage with Tam, her staff and provincial health officials to discuss the steps they’ve taken.

As of Sunday, the CLIA is telling all associated cruise lines — including companies like Princess Cruises, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney — to deny boarding to anyone who has travelled from Iran or flown through airports there within 14 days of sailing. Anyone who has been in contact with a case of COVID-19 or is being monitored will also be denied boarding.

Anyone who has visited or flown through airports in South Korea, China, Hong Kong, or any part of Italy currently under lockdown must also go through an illness screening, including symptom checks.

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Illness screenings are also mandatory for any passengers who travelled to, from or through any airports listed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All passengers on all ships, regardless of travel history, must also be screened for temperature upon boarding.

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The CLIA says these measures will ensure sailings will not have to be cancelled or refunded, quoting the World Health Organization‘s own advisory “against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.”

According to the CLIA, the cruise industry helps generate more than $3.2 billion in economic activity in Canada.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Government chartering plane for Canadians on Grand Princess

The Port of Vancouver said 2019 was its busiest cruise season yet, with 288 ships docking in the city bringing $3 million of local economic activity with each sailing — a total of more than $860 million.

But Melissa Fitzgerald, whose parents are among the 237 Canadians aboard the Grand Princess currently anchored off the California coast after dozens of passengers and crew were diagnosed with COVID-19, says economic concerns should be set aside.

“I think it’s a wise thing now [to cancel cruises],” she said. “In hindsight, I think it should have been announced earlier.
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“I just think, heed the warning. Is it really that important to go on a cruise right now? Just stay home, stay with your family and stay well.”

The CLIA was not available to respond to additional questions Sunday.