Princess Cruises announced that it is suspending its global operations for 60 days amid the coronavirus pandemic that has already forced two of its ships’ passengers into quarantine.
All operations will be suspended March 12 to May 10 according to a statement from the cruise line shared with USA TODAY by spokesperson Negin Kamali.
“It is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world,” Jan Swartz president of Princess Cruises, said in the release.
“While this is a difficult business decision, we firmly believe it is the right one and is in alignment with our company’s core values,” Swartz said in a video posted to YouTube on Thursday.
Swartz said that the company will use the time to prepare Princess Cruises’ fleet for return to service.
Viking Cruises cancels all cruises until May 1
Viking Cruises announced it is cancelling cruises through April 30, becoming the first major cruise line to take such drastic measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Viking chairman Torstein Hagen wrote in a letter to passengers Wednesday that the company had made the “difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations” for river and ocean cruises beginning Thursday through April 30.
“I am writing today because the situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning,” Hagen wrote. “As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.”
A female traveler on a 29-passenger Southeast Asia river cruise was exposed “in recent days” to coronavirus “while in transit on an international airline,” Hagen told passengers, adding that she was not exhibiting symptoms but had been quarantined. “Separately, the remaining 28 guests will also be quarantined.”
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Hagen also cited other travel restrictions caused by coronavirus for the company’s decision: Major ports, “including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen” have closed for the time being, big tourist attractions from the Louvre to Tokyo Disneyland have been closed, and an increasing number of travel restrictions and lockdowns abroad and in the U.S. have squashed usual public gatherings.
“This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known,” Hagen added. “We will stand by our guests, employees and partners in these challenging times and hope that they in turn will stand by us.”
Guests whose trips will be impacted by the suspension can either request a total refund or a voucher for a future Viking cruise, valued at 125% of the original payment. Travelers are encouraged to contact Viking or their travel agent by March 25.
Viking’s announcement comes as some other cruises around the world work to prevent and contain coronavirus outbreaks between guests.
The passengers of two of Princess Cruises’ ships, Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, have been quarantined abroad and in the U.S. Nearly 700 people contracted coronavirus after being quarantined on board the Diamond Princess and at least 21 people have tested positive after being on Grand Princess.
Other ships have been turned away from ports for fear of the virus, including Holland America’s MS Westerdam, which found itself in limbo in February.
As of Thursday morning, coronavirus had infected more than 127,749 people and killed 4,717 globally, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Meanwhile, the state department, cruise industry and health experts are urging people not to board cruises still scheduled to set sail.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) submitted a plan Tuesday to Vice President Michael Pence proposing enhanced measures across the industry as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, forcing two ships of passengers into quarantine and escalating fears on others.
According to the proposal, boarding should be denied to any person over the age of 70 years unless they are able to present a doctor’s note verifying their fitness for travel on a cruise ship, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.
Similarly, any person with a chronic medical condition who could be at an increased risk if they were to contract COVID-19 should be barred from getting on a cruise ship.
At a briefing Tuesday night, Pence confirmed he had received CLIA’s proposal. “We’ll be reviewing that in the next 24 hours,” he added. “The President’s objective is for us to make cruise lines safer, even as we work with the cruise lines to ensure that — that no one in our particularly vulnerable population is — is going out on a cruise in the near future.”
Contributing: Morgan Hines, USA TODAY