Saint John port, airport prepare for impact of COVID-19

The Saint John Airport is seen on Monday, March 9, 2020, where COVID-19 info is posted in numerous places. Tim Roszell/Global News

The president and CEO of the Port of Saint John believes it’s still too early to predict the kind of impact COVID-19 may have on the 2020 cruise season. But Jim Quinn admits passenger numbers may drop as case numbers rise.

The port was expecting a record 90 cruise ships and more than 225,000 passengers and crew to call on Saint John this year, beginning late next month.

But in Ottawa on Monday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters Canadians should avoid all travel on cruise ships.

READ MORE: Port Saint John expects busier summer season following release of 2020 cruise schedule

Quinn said that information, combined with Canadians taking their own precautions, could impact the number of people making the trip to Saint John. Quinn said cruise lines have not cancelled any trips to the city so far.

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Quinn said he met with Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long on Monday to discuss the situation, both locally and nationally. Quinn is the chair of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA). He said he wanted to express to Long the importance of taking a “measured approach” to any future restrictions on ship and cruise traffic in response to COVID-19.

“The impact of cruise ships coming into Canadian ports is significant,” Quinn said. “It’s in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s not just the ports, it’s the broader economy. And so we’re asking that [the federal government] take a measured, stepped approach to any actions. For example, what I mean by that, if they move to another level of restriction, that they do so in a segmented way.”

Quinn said the Port of Saint John is restricting all work-related travel until further notice. Any employee required to travel for work will need to be approved, or reapproved if they received approval prior to the COVID-19 outbreak before proceeding.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Virus-hit cruise ship approaches California dock' Coronavirus outbreak: Virus-hit cruise ship approaches California dock
Coronavirus outbreak: Virus-hit cruise ship approaches California dock – Mar 9, 2020

In the meantime, at the Saint John Airport, staff are in what one executive called the “first phase” of its response to the virus.

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Brian Wiggins, the airport’s facilities manager, said workers have installed an additional 16 hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the facility and posted bilingual information about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

He said up to 200 people could be working at the airport on any given day during the winter months, including airport staff, airlines, Transport Canada, rental car companies and other organizations.

READ MORE: Maritime ports hosting hurricane-diverted cruise ships

He said airport management are mostly emphasizing awareness with all staff and passengers right now, but that may change as federal and provincial authorities become engaged in the process.

“We’re having a lot of discussions at this stage of the game about what are the next steps along those lines,” Wiggins said. “Whether it’s policies around sick time, and whether it’s just maintaining certain aspects of the terminal. There’s a lot of things to talk about.”

Wiggins said according to February numbers, passenger traffic at the airport had not been impacted to that point.

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