By Simon & Susan Veness
We’re paraphrasing an old Ian Dury song here but bear with us. No, we’re not being flippant, but there is a sense that the media is over-dramatising the issue. There aren’t any reasons to be cheerful in this instance but, we think, there ARE reasons to be careful.
Coronavirus hasn’t been out of the news headlines since it first reared its ugly head in December, and it’s a serious respiratory illness, from the same ugly family that brought us SARS in 2003, which caused major health problems worldwide.
Happily, the response to this issue by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China itself – which is ground zero for this outbreak once again – has been much quicker than in 2003, and there is much more that is known about this virus because of SARS, and sister virus MERS from 2015.
As was the case 17 years ago, travel is once again at the cross-hairs of this particular outbreak. Mass travel is even more at the heart of things, and travel by cruise ship has been front and central to news media since a Princess Cruises ship was effectively put in wholesale quarantine in Japan on February 4.
It IS a serious issue, we can’t say otherwise, but, to read some reports, you’d think the Bubonic Plague had broken out on board and people were keeling over left, right and centre. For most people, coronavirus is no worse than a bad head cold. But, like the flu, for the very young, the elderly and those with existing conditions like asthma and diabetes, it is a major concern.
As is the case with the flu, you shouldn’t be travelling at any stage, so it is important to keep a sense of proportion. The bottom line is, any kind of mass travel, be it trains, buses or planes, puts you slightly more at risk of catching an airborne virus like this one.
For the media to be making cruise ships out as some kind of villain of the piece is sheer nonsense. There is ONE notable instance of a coronavirus outbreak on a ship. There are another 300-plus ships operating perfectly safely worldwide every week.
Dozens will leave Florida ports this week bound for the Caribbean and other typically tropical destinations. Ships are also in South America, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. All are operating normally.
And this is where the Reasons To Be Careful come in.
The cruise industry IS aware of the public perception (as created by news programmes and online) that things are not all as they should be at sea, and they are reacting in the most responsible way possible.
As of this week, the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA) has issued new guidelines to all its members for addressing concerns about the virus, and for being pro-active in trying to ensure there are no more outbreaks on ships. Here’s what they say:
“Given the evolving nature of the ongoing 2019-novel coronavirus outbreak – and based upon prevailing guidance from global health authorities, including the WHO – CLIA members have adopted the following enhanced protocols for ocean-going guests and crew:
• CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.
• CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having Coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to Novel Coronavirus.
• CLIA Members are to conduct pre-boarding screenings necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected Novel Coronavirus.
In coordination with cruise lines, medical experts and regulators around the world, CLIA and its member lines will continue to monitor for new developments related to the coronavirus and modify these policies as necessary with the utmost consideration for the health and safety of passengers and crew.
Importantly, the cruise industry is one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of those onboard, with outbreak prevention and response measures in place year-round. Furthermore, ships are all fitted with onboard medical facilities, with medical professionals available around the clock, to provide initial medical care in the event of illness and help prevent disease transmission.”
The last part of that statement is the most important. Conditions do change, but the industry is intensely aware that it needs to stay ahead of developments, and this will continue to be the case in the weeks and months ahead.
There is certainly no need to cancel any bookings or be overly apprehensive about taking a voyage anytime soon. Avoiding China is clearly uppermost in everyone’s thoughts in the travel world right now, but that doesn’t mean a Caribbean cruise, a trip to Rio or an expedition voyage to Antarctica are in any way off the holiday menu.
As ever, you should always have good trip insurance with any holiday you plan, including a cancellation clause, and you should monitor government and WHO advise for international travel. And, as befits all advice for travelling in large groups, make sure you do the sanitation basics like washing your hands regularly and following any local protocols. Coronavirus or not, this is still cold and flu season and that perennial curse of Norovirus is still out there. If you see hand sanitiser, use it (and then wash your hands again – hand sanitiser does NOT replace soap and water!).
Finally, when it comes to Reasons To Be Careful, there is nothing like doing the basics to keep yourself hale and healthy when you travel, be it a train journey, in a hotel room or on a luxury cruise. Take Lysol with you, and use it, liberally (TV remote controls always get a real dousing whenever we check in to a hotel room!); avoid the buffet line if you can; and, after you’ve handled a menu and ordered your food, pay a quick visit to the nearest restroom and wash your hands. It really can be that simple.
They are travel touchstones we live by and, to date, we are still here dispensing travel advice!
What are your thoughts on the current coronavirus outbreak, and are you still happy to go cruising? Give us your opinion in the Comments section below.