U.S. Citizens 'Should Not Travel By Cruise Ship' Due to Coronavirus Risk, Says State Department
Several major cruise lines confirmed to PEOPLE that they will continue to sail as scheduled, despite the warning
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise around the globe, the U.S. State Department has issued an official warning against traveling on cruise ships.
“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the statement reads, noting that the “cruise ship environment” can foster an “increased risk of infection.”
The CDC has also issued a similar warning, citing the “unusual nature of the novel coronavirus,” which “appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”
“It has become clear that people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and other conditions that cause suppression of immune system particularly among older adults, are at a high risk of serious disease if infected with the novel coronavirus,” the CDC warns.
In their statement, the State Department also pointed out that those traveling onboard cruise ships could also be subjected to travel restrictions by local authorities at their ports of call outside the U.S., and that “repatriation flights” — flights sometimes used to bring Americans safely back to the States in times of crisis — “should not be relied upon as an option” to return home.
They are also encouraging passengers planning on traveling by cruise ship to “contact their cruise line companies directly for further information.”
Despite the official warnings, many major cruise lines are continuing to operate.
“While an advisory has been issued, no restrictions are in place for those who choose to take a cruise,” a Carnival Cruise spokesperson tells PEOPLE in a statement, confirming that their voyages are operating as scheduled. “Our brands have enhanced their health screening protocols, which includes thermal scans, temperature checks as well as other actions, both prior to boarding and onboard our ships.”
Several cruise lines issued statements noting that they are in ongoing discussions with the CDC, World Health Organization and other officials. Cruise industry heads also met with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday to discuss an “aggressive industry-wide response plan.”
A representative for Royal Caribbean confirmed to PEOPLE that all their cruises will continue as planned.
The company also released a statement that the company remains “focused” on developing an “aggressive, response plan” that “goes beyond the already significantly enhanced protocols in place.”
“We have committed to do even more to protect our guests, our crew and the communities where we sail. This includes more stringent boarding procedures, adding additional onboard medical resources and temperature screenings at embarkation,” the cruise line’s statement continued.
Its latest announcement includes a seemingly new addition, compared to others released in the last few weeks, about what will happen should a ship’s passengers be quarantined.
“We will also develop industry funded protocols to care for guests on land in the event of an incident to eliminate future incidents of onboard quarantine,” it said.
Representatives for Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian, MSC and Princess (a subsidiary of Carnival) did not reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment on the State Department warning.
Two cruises have been severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak so far.
A Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined off the coast of Japan in early February after the illness was reported on board, with 621 people eventually testing positive. According to Reuters, seven passengers have now died.
Another ship from the same company, the Grand Princess, carrying at least 21 people who have tested positive is scheduled to arrive in California on Monday. The disembarkation process is expected to take several days.
Princess has a list of upcoming voyages that have been cancelled on its website. It includes cruises to affected areas in Asia, but also San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale.
Several cruise with passengers on board exhibiting flu-like symptoms have also recently faced issues when attempting to dock in the Caribbean, where local authorities and protestors turned them away, and Europe, including Italy, where the outbreak has been severe.
Amid the continued epidemic, several cruise companies have set restrictions on who can board.
Major cruise lines said they would deny any passengers from boarding if they have traveled to areas with major outbreaks within 14 days, or been in close proximity to anyone who has. They will also turn away anyone with flu-like symptoms.
As of Monday, 111,363 people have been infected across 109 countries. Of those cases, 3,892 have resulted in death. In the United States, there have been 566 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people to “practice everyday preventive actions” to help keep healthy and reduce exposure to the virus, which includes avoiding close contact with people who are sick and covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
They also suggest routinely cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.