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Coronavirus: Cruise season should be delayed, says B.C.’s top doctor

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WATCH: COVID-19: Should the 2020 B.C. cruise ship season be delayed? – Mar 9, 2020

B.C.’s top doctor says she wants to see the province delay the launch of its cruise season, and that talks about the possibility are already underway.

“It’s just an environment where people cannot separate from each other sufficiently to prevent transmission of respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry Monday.

“So it is really taking a chance on on your health at the moment.”

Henry said she had given her advice to federal officials who have jurisdiction on the matter, where it is being “actively discussed,” and that she anticipated a decision on the matter in the coming days.

READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. announces Canada’s first coronavirus death

Transport Canada confirmed it is in talks with Health Canada about how to handle the situation.

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“The Government of Canada is looking at all available options for the upcoming cruise ship season, and will not hesitate to take necessary measures to protect Canadians,” said the agency in a statement.

Earlier Monday, the federal government issued a formal advisory against boarding cruise ships.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Virus-hit cruise ship approaches California dock – Mar 9, 2020

It’s a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for Vancouver’s and Victoria’s economies.

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The Port of Vancouver says it played host to 288 cruise ship visits in 2019, each worth about $3 million in economic activity. The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority says it served 250 ships in the 2018 season.

Destination BC says in 2014 the cruise sector was worth $1.79 billion in economic input and supported just under 10,000 jobs.

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

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Louise Vargas, who operates Vancouver’s Gastown Soapworks, said about 70 per cent of her clients are tourists, many of them cruise passengers.

“I’m concerned. I know when the cruise ships come in,” she said, saying there’s usually an uptick in sales on those weekends.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Canada’s Public Health Agency advises Canadians to avoid cruise ship travel – Mar 9, 2020

Vargas said she’s hoping that any decrease in business can be offset by domestic tourism within Canada.

She’s also luckier than her neighbours in that she’s selling a product that’s appealing during a pandemic.

“We don’t actually speak about it,” she said of the virus, adding that her sales pitch is more along the lines of “it’s a good time to buy some soap.”

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On Saturday, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) blasted health officials for warning people away from cruise ships.

READ MORE: B.C.’s tourism industry braces for hit amid mounting COVID-19 fears

“Unprecedented disruptions in this year’s cruise season will have a significant economic impact, especially on coastal communities in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia,” said CLIA in a statement Sunday.

“The cruise industry is a significant contributor to the economy in Canada, helping generate more than $3.2 billion in economic activity and over 23,000 jobs at travel agencies, airlines, hotels, and a broad supply chain of industries stretching across the country.”

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At least 21 people aboard Grand Princess test positive for COVID-19 – Mar 6, 2020

On Sunday it announced “stringent new measures” to prevent transmission of the virus after speaking with U.S. and Canadian officials leading the fight against COIVD-19.

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Under the new measures, cruise ships will deny boarding to passengers who have visited or transited airports in South Korea, Iran, China or Italy within 14 days.

Ships will also screen passengers who have travelled to any country on the U.S. CDC’s list of countries of concern, and temperature screen all boarding passengers.