LONG BEACH, California (Reuters) – With a white captain’s hat perched on his head, Calvin Ballard looked relaxed as he waited for his first cruise to Mexico, not surprised by the possibility of being trapped on a ship under siege by a blast of coronavirus.
Like many other vacationers who flock to an ocean liner docked near Los Angeles, Ballard said he was well aware that passengers on other cruises were stranded for weeks away from home, and promised to pay close attention. to stay healthy. However, he was determined to have fun.
“What we are planning to do is wash our hands often, trying not to touch things and then touching our mouths, and only being aware of how we come into contact with people: intelligent things”, the 55-year-old resource manager of Orange, California, he said cheerfully. “We are focusing on fun.”
Ballard and his wife Judy, 50, wearing a sailor hat, were among the 2,350 passengers on the Carnival Cruise Line who left Thursday from the port of Long Beach on a three-day trip to the tourist town of Ensenada, on the Mexican coast of Baja.
From those who paused for interviews with Reuters just outside the terminal, it was clear that most passengers had packed another hand sanitizer with their sunscreen and would probably have approached the food buffet lines with greater trepidation with respect to the past.
Everyone readily recognized that the fright of the coronavirus and the stories of the quarantine cruise ships in Cambodia and Japan were not far from their minds.
“We’ve all heard the horror stories,” said Andrew MacKenzie, 37, of Napa, California, while waiting with a friend before boarding the Carnival Imagination.
But everyone professed to have made peace with the idea of being grouped in relatively close spaces with hundreds of strangers, and they were determined to follow meticulous hand hygiene and maintain a safe distance from anyone who appeared sick.
Embarking passengers said they also comforted themselves knowing that their flight to North America was far from the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, which infected more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,200. The vast majority of cases and deaths are found in China.
“Hopefully everything will be fine,” said Shirley Sosin, 67, traveling with her friend Bernadette Neve, 53, both registered Fresno nurses.
They booked their trip long before the coronavirus epidemic, but felt reassured by the steps Carnival claimed it had set up to minimize risk, including tighter pre-cruise health screening and “enhanced hygiene measures to edge “.
A central precaution is a strict ban on passengers or crew members who have been in China, Hong Kong or Macau for the previous 14 days – the alleged incubation period for the virus. The cruise line promised full refunds for passengers denied boarding.
THE CRUISE EARNINGS TAKE A SHOT
Although the courier claimed to operate normally in North America and Australia, its parent company Carnival Corp (CCL.N), the world’s largest cruise ship company, is suffering a severe blow due to coronavirus-related outages in its operations in Asia.
The company, which closed 2019 with an adjusted earnings per share of $ 4.40, predicted that its financial performance for 2020 will be reduced by 55-65 cents per share, including passenger compensation for canceled reservations.
Paul Meade, 57, residing in Lincolnshire, England, during a family visit to Utah with a short trip to Mexico, said that he and his wife “were following the news story (coronavirus).”
“But on a three-day cruise from Los Angeles, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” he said. “We know the precautions for good hygiene and practice them anyway, so I don’t think there are reasons to be overly concerned.”
Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, agreed that coronavirus had little to fear, in light of the precautions taken by cruise lines.
“The risk of someone getting the flu is infinitely greater than the risk of contracting coronavirus if you travel to the western hemisphere or even to Hawaii,” he said.
Schaffner said cruise lines have done a lot in the past few years to improve disinfectant measures and train staff in good hygiene by reducing the frequency of outbreaks of food and respiratory diseases on board.
However, he said diligent hand washing, adequate coverage of coughing and sneezing and self-reporting of diseases are key to reducing germs, including seasonal flu and norovirus, a serious intestinal disease that is was particularly problematic at sea.
Coronavirus is spread mainly through tiny droplets coughed or sneezed directly by an infected person into the face of someone nearby, as opposed to the more contagious “aerial” transmission of a virus such as measles, which can remain suspended in closed spaces and be breathed in for hours after being expired by sick people, Schaffner said.
Although coronavirus can also be collected from surfaces, the spread of droplets is seen as its main vector, so “widespread disinfection is unlikely to be effective” in curbing its transmission, according to a guide by the US Centers for Control and disease prevention (CDC).
Overall, the risk of contracting coronavirus on a North American cruise remains “very, very low,” said Schaffner, adding that his advice to someone expressing interest in making such a trip: “Bon voyage”.
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Long Beach; additional reports from Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Curated by Frank McGurty and Daniel Wallis