The Port of Vancouver has asked Health Canada for directions on how to handle the scheduled arrival next month of the Grand Princess, a cruise ship on which 21 people have fallen sick with COVID-19.
The move comes as Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C’s provincial health officer, called for Ottawa to delay the start of the upcoming cruise season, and Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, urged Canadians to avoid travel on any cruise ship to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
“I have grave concerns about cruises right now,” Henry said on Monday. “It is my belief that we should be delaying our cruise season until we are in a safer place internationally.”
Dr. Henry said she had communicated her thoughts to Transport Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency, which have authority over the industry. She expected them to respond “if not this week … within the coming days for sure.”
In a statement, a Port of Vancouver official said “Health Canada is the lead organization that all agencies will be looking to for guidance and direction.”
The Port of Vancouver had a record cruise ship season in 2019, bringing 1.1 million passengers into the city and generating an estimated $860 million in economic activity.
The 2020 cruise ship season is scheduled to start on April 2 with the arrival of the Grand Princess. In April, alone there are 11 cruise ships slated to arrive in Vancouver, with 35,000 passengers and 13,000 crew.
The Grand Princess, with 2,400 passengers on board, was placed under quarantine on Thursday after a COVID-19 outbreak among 21 people, mostly crew. On Monday, passengers were taken off the ship in Oakland, California, and placed in quarantine. The ship has travelled to an undisclosed location outside San Francisco Bay where it will sit out a two-week quarantine of the crew.
“We are in discussions with our cruise line partners to understand any changes in passenger numbers, changes to itineraries and updated protocols and procedures in place in preparation for the upcoming cruise season,” the port statement said. It said several agencies are involved in the discussions, including Canada Border Services Agency, Transport Canada, Health Canada, and the Cruise Lines International Association.
The port is expecting to hear from Health Canada “soon.”
On Sunday, the Cruise Lines International Association said that it was acting to protect passengers and residents of port cities from COVID-19, the respiratory illness killing people around the world.
Cruise lines will not allow passengers to board who have visited South Korea, Iran, China and Italy within the previous two weeks. All passengers will be screened to see if they have a temperature above 38 degrees and if they do they will get a secondary screening.
“We remain in close contact with local governments around the world, and while we regret that these changes will result in the denial of boarding for some of our guests, travellers should know that their health and safety is the absolute priority for the industry,” said CLIA president Kelly Craighead, adding the industry was opposed to any restrictions on the movement of cruise ships.
Princess Cruises, the owner of the Grand Princess, also owns the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off Japan in February and was for a time the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside of China, where the outbreak originated. About 700 people aboard that ship became infected, and six have died.
With files from Reuters