Coronavirus outbreak means economic rough seas for cruise ship ports

The MSC Meraviglia cruise ship, which was turned away by Jamaica and the Cayman Islands after a crew member tested positive for flu, was docked in Cozumel, Mexico, on Feb. 28. Photo: Getty

Mexico’s port towns from Cabo to Cozumel face economic turmoil after the U.S. State Department on Sunday urged U.S. citizens to not travel on cruise ships.

The agency warned that passengers are more likely to contract the coronavirus infection and could be subject to quarantines and other international travel restrictions.

The decline in cruise ship visits could dramatically impact the economies of countries like Mexico, which relies heavily on tourism.

The resort city of Cabo San Lucas, which hosted 204 cruise ships in 2019, has already taken a big financial blow because of coronavirus concerns. State authorities have reported a 20% to 30% drop in cruise ship reservations.

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the State Department announced.

The U.S. announcement came as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases topped 500, with the largest numbers in Washington state, New York and California.

Up until Sunday, the White House has resisted cruise ship warnings because President Trump has not wanted to do or say anything that might further hurt the stock market and the travel industry. Over the last month, the stock price for Carnival Corp., owner of Princess Cruises, has declined nearly 35%.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday criticized the cruise industry, saying that its leaders needed to implement stricter safety protocols to prevent further spread of the virus.

The crowded and confined environment of cruise ships makes them especially prone to disease outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreaks on ships can persist throughout multiple voyages if crew members are infected, and medical facilities on-board are limited when compared with the care mainland hospitals can provide.

The most frequently reported cruise ship outbreaks have involved respiratory or gastrointestinal infections and vaccine-preventable diseases like the flu.

Anywhere from eight to 16 outbreaks of norovirus — a highly contagious stomach bug — occurred each year among the international cruise ships that ported in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015, CDC data show.

The coronavirus death toll in the U.S. rose to 21 on Sunday, and at least 537 cases of infection have been confirmed nationwide. Worldwide, more than 109,000 people have been infected and more than 3,800 have died.

Questions have been raised about whether passengers on the Grand Princess could have either picked up or spread the coronavirus when it visited Cabo and three other Mexican Pacific ports during a trip from San Francisco in February.

Mexico has confirmed a total of six cases of the coronavirus, but none so far in the state of Baja California Sur, where Cabo is located.

Source: Los Angeles Times