Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, said in a press conference in Ottawa on Monday that the close quarters on cruise ships offer an environment where the virus can spread quickly, and Canadians should not take cruises for the foreseeable future.
“Today, the Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending that Canadians avoid all cruise ship travel due to COVID-19,” said Tam.
“The virus can spread quickly on cruise ships due to the close contact between passengers.”
She was joined at the press conference by Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who were questioned on why it has taken until now for the government to recommend against cruise travel by Canadians.
There have been hundreds of cases of COVID-19 reported on cruise ships since the outbreak began, including dozens of cases of Canadians infected on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship that has been quarantined for weeks at the harbour in Japan.
A second cruise ship, the Grand Princess, is quarantined off the coast of California over 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
The federal government said over the weekend it will repatriate the 237 Canadians on board that ship and Champagne said that the cruise line, Holland America, has agreed to pay the costs of bringing those Canadians back to Canada.
They will be quarantined for 14 days at CFB Trenton, as were previous repatriations from Wuhan in China, and anyone showing symptoms will not be allowed on the return plane.
Tam said the situation is changing quickly and officials are trying to learn from the past.
“As you know, the global situation changed quite rapidly even from the time of the Diamond Princess cruise ship to now,” she said.
“I think it’s really a constant learning from the very rapidly evolving situation and I think this is a precautionary measure that we absolutely support from a public health perspective.”
A third cruise ship operated by the same line was also held at sea on Monday afternoon over concerns some aboard could have the virus.
Tam had previously urged Canadians last week to “think twice” before booking a cruise because of concerns about the virus, which has now infected more than 110,000 people in more than 100 countries around the world.
There are 71 confirmed and presumed Canadian cases.
As well, Tam confirmed that a Canadian tourist visiting the Dominican Republic has contracted the virus.
She said that individual stayed at a hotel where an infected person from Italy also stayed.
Italy is among the countries witnessing some of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus.
The Italian government and police have locked down roughly 16 million people in an attempt to contain the spread.
More than 360 people in Italy have died from the virus.
South Korea and Iran are also among some of the hardest-hit countries apart from China, where the outbreak originated.