As community transmission of Covid-19 emerges around the world, why are cruise ships still sailing?
News of another possible coronavirus outbreak on a cruise ship off California led the State to declare an emergency on Wednesday. A total of 21 passengers and crew reported symptoms, and the fact that the ship was also linked to the first death in the Golden state, a passenger who disembarked just the other week, raised additional alarms. The announcement also prompted questions: why are cruise ships still sailing?
Unlike air travel, a cruise is exclusively a leisure trip. While they are big business for the cruise companies, and a source of significant tourism revenue for local ports, they are not a vital form of transportation. No one is cruising to an urgent business meeting or to get home to a dying relative.
Cruise passengers also tend to be older, making them more susceptible to the virus. The average age of a cruise passenger is nearly 50, and that statistic is somewhat misleading when viewed against the distribution of ages:
40 to 49-year-olds make up only 15% of all cruise passengers for that year. This is probably due to a handful of families with small children lowering the average age. The median age was between 60 and 69-year-olds, with a full 19% of cruisers falling under this demographic.
Cruises then have significant populations of the exact demographic of people most vulnerable to Covid-19, and most likely to suffer severe complications. Even under the best of circumstances crusise ships can be floating petri dishes, and outbreaks of norovirus are a common industry problem.
It seems increasingly irresponsible to incubate thousands of travelers from all over the world in tight space with recirculating air only to disgorge them on remote ports. Already, Caribbean countries have begun to refusing to let cruise ships land, and a mini riot broke out in Reunion. Many of the locals in previously reported eager tourist towns are starting to consider whether it’s worth the risk.
The cruise companies certainly aren’t going to be the ones to put an end to the party. The losses would be too great, and the cruise companies have thus far been resistant to letting passengers cancel — instead they are rerouting trips out of Asia. Online message boards are rife with complaints by passengers who don’t want to sail, but when faced with the prospect of losing their entire payment decide they have no choice but to embark.
It’s beyond time that governments stepped in and made the decision for them. In the current environment continuing to cruise is irresponsible, and cruises are a public health risk we shouldn’t be taking.