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Royal Caribbean, Norwegian tighten coronavirus cruise precautions

Adopting some of the most restrictive responses yet to the coronavirus outbreak, the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines announced Friday that they would bar any traveler with a passport from China, Hong Kong or Macao from their ships.

For Norwegian Cruise Line, the latest restriction would hold in place “until further notice,” the company said. Royal Caribbean will keep the regulation in effect through the end of February.

The new rule for Royal Caribbean International is stricter than the cruise line’s previous requirement that called for enhanced health screening for holders of passports from China, Hong Kong and Macao and a ban on travelers boarding any of the cruise line’s ships if they have visited China, Hong Kong or Macao in the previous 15 days.

Norwegian said in a statement that anyone who had “traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macao, within 30 days of their voyage embarcation, regardless of nationality, will not be allowed to board any of our vessels.” The restriction also applies to crew members.

A representative of Royal Caribbean could not be reached for comment Friday to explain the decision, but a statement posted on the company’s website said it was made “after consultation with medical experts and public health authorities … plus changes in various countries’ requirements and regulations, along with our desire to ensure that we are able to provide a great vacation experience, while we protect our guests and crew.”

The announcement comes as cruise lines hustle to respond to an outbreak that has quarantined passengers on at least two ships and forced other cruise companies to implement a series of new health regulations for their passengers.

The effects of the outbreak on the cruise industry could be substantial, considering that cruise companies have in the last few years turned their attention to China to try to attract its estimated 83 million potential cruise customers.

Cruise lines have overhauled ships to attract Chinese travelers, modifying the food, entertainment and onboard amenities. In 2017, Princess Cruise Lines launched its first ship designed specifically for Chinese travelers.

In a coronavirus outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, since Monday, the number of cases climbed to 61. About 3,700 passengers and crew are on board. Passengers began their journey Jan. 20 at Yokohama and were supposed to have ended their trip Feb. 4.

In Hong Kong, authorities are checking on more than 1,800 passengers and an equal number of crew members on the Dream Cruises ship, which was quarantined after passengers from the Chinese mainland tested positive for coronavirus.

In New Jersey, more than two dozen Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. passengers were screened for coronavirus Friday and four were transferred to an area hospital — the first such incident at a U.S. port, according to Bloomberg.

Also, more than 2,000 people are marooned on board the Westerdam after four countries denied entry to the cruise ship over coronavirus fears despite the crew’s insistence that no one on board is known to be infected. In a statement, the Holland America Line said it was “evaluating several options and working with different governments for a swift resolution.”

In response to the coronavirus emergency, cruise ships will deny boarding to passengers of any nationality who have visited, or traveled from or through, China, including Hong Kong and Macao, within 14 days of their sailing date, the world’s largest cruise industry association announced Friday.

Cruise lines will also screen passengers before they board and conduct “enhanced screenings” for those who show symptoms of the deadly virus.

Passengers who have cared for or been in contact with anyone diagnosed with or suspected of having the virus in the last two weeks will be turned away too. This includes people who have been around anyone being monitored for possible exposure.

The Cruise Lines International Assn., whose members operate 90% of the world’s oceangoing voyages, cited the health and safety of passengers and crew members as the reason for the new protocols, which took effect Friday. They beefed up earlier rules issued Jan. 30.

“These enhanced policies … continue to allow for informed decisions on a case-by-case basis whether a guest or crew member will be permitted to board,” the association said in a statement.

Cruise line association members include Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises.

The number of cases of people infected with the virus has risen to more than 31,500 worldwide. The death toll in China was at 636 as of late Friday. It was first detected in Wuhan, China, but has now spread to other parts of the world, including 12 cases in the United States.

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