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B.C.'s health minister urges people to avoid cruise ships as start of Vancouver season nears
VANCOUVER -- Two cruise ships in separate parts of the world are under lockdown after dozens of passengers tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
During a press conference about the latest COVID-19 cases in B.C. on Saturday, Health Minister Adrian Dix did not mince words as he warned people who are undecided about taking a trip on a cruise. Of the six new cases announced Saturday, two had been passengers on an infected cruise ship.
"There are risks that can't fully be calculated right now," said Dix. "Those who are considering going on cruises, who have bought tickets on cruises, need to very seriously consider their position. If you're asking for my advice, I'd say: don’t go."
The latest cruise carrying infected passenger is on Egypt's Nile River, where more than 150 tourists and local crew are under quarantine.
Egyptian health officials began testing people on board after a Taiwanese-American tourist tested positive when she returned to Taiwan. Authorities found a dozen of the ship's crew members were sick even though they didn't show any symptoms.
A total of 45 people on board tested positive for the virus, among them 19 tourists whose nationalities have not yet been released.
Meanwhile, off the coast of California, 19 crew members and two passengers on board the Grand Princess have tested positive for COVID-19. But that number may climb as only 46 of the more than 3,500 passengers were screened in the first round of testing.
More than 230 Canadians remain on the ship and have been told not to leave their cabins while more tests are being conducted. B.C. health officials said that two of the six new cases announced on Saturday were a man and woman in their 60s who had been passengers on the Grand Princess from Feb. 11 and 21.
Meanwhile, the Grand Princess is scheduled to dock at the Port of Vancouver on April 2, which will kick off the start of Vancouver's cruise season.
Surrey resident Marichu Camales-Torrijos understands the plight those Canadians under quarantine are facing right now.
She was confined to her cabin on the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan for two weeks before being moved to the Nav Centre in Cornwall, Ont. for another two weeks of isolation.
"I wouldn't say it's like a prison, but there are a lot of limitations. But now you're free and you don't have to wear a mask," she told CTV News.
Camales-Torrjios said she is looking forward to returning home after her trip was unexpectedly extended because of coronavirus concerns.
"We have been away from home for 45 days. It will be really nice to go home, kiss your family, hug them, and then take a rest in your own bed," she said.
Despite the ordeal, she said she and her husband are already planning their next cruise – but she said it won't be happening anytime soon.
"Not until we are quite sure that this coronavirus infection has been contained…we don't want to undergo another (quarantine) like this," she said.
Vancouver's cruise ship season weeks away
The city's cruise ship season is less than a month away and hundreds of cruise curious locals attended an Alaska cruise expo on Saturday.
"Hopefully by the time I make up my mind, the coronavirus situation will be settled," said Banny Hu.
Others were still enthusiastic about taking a cruise despite the health minister's warning.
"If people do their due diligence of washing of their hands and keeping themselves healthy, we should be fit for travel," said Stephanie Canaday.
Holland America Line, which will have five ships departing from Vancouver, hosted the event.
The cruise line has not had to undergo any quarantines because of COVID-19. But Orlando Ashford, the president of the company, acknowledged the health concerns have prompted some customers to delay or cancel their trips.
"We're in unprecedented times, so that's why we're working to be flexible because there are two camps: there are some camps that are little bit more nervous and fearful, and we want to respect that. But there are other camps that still feel good about cruising and we want to enable that as well," said Ashford.
Ashford said crew members are taking extra steps to ensure everyone on board is safe by tracking whether passengers are coming from high-risk countries and their travel history. They are also ensuring everyone is practicing good hand hygiene.
"We've always had protocols in place to try to protect one another but now we're even more attuned to that," he said.
In response to Dix's comments about avoiding cruises, Ashford said the industry has faced difficulties in the past and this is another one of those times.
"I run a cruise company so if somebody makes a statement, 'Gee, it's not good to cruise,' that's a challenge. But what to try to do is make a balance," he said, adding they have implemented a more relaxed cancellation policy for people who want to rebook their trips.
The Port of Vancouver said it is working with its cruise line partners and other agencies to prepare for its upcoming cruise season, adding it is working to understand any updated protocols and procedures.
It said it will be looking to Health Canada for any guidance and direction.