Report: White House Considers New Measures on Cruising and COVID-19

File image courtesy PortMiami

Published Mar 6, 2020 6:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

On the eve of a scheduled meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and executives from top cruise lines, the Trump administration is said to be considering whether to discourage U.S. citizens from traveling aboard cruise ships, the Associated Press reported Friday. 

Citing four administration officials, the AP reports that the federal goverment is contemplating - but has not yet decided upon - new measures to limit or discourage cruising in light of the novel coronavirus epidemic. The measures could include recommending that some or all American citizens should avoid cruise ships, or even implementing travel restrictions on cruising, according to the report. 

If accurate, these measures would expand on current federal guidance on cruise ships and coronavirus. The U.S. State Department currently advises that American citizens should "reconsider travel by cruise ship to or within Asia," where the outbreak originated. It also cautions that many other countries have implemented strict screening procedures in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and that these procedures may affect U.S. citizens traveling by ship, potentially limiting the ability to disembark.

At present, the only strict restrictions that the United States has placed on travel in response to the epidemic are on arrivals from China and Iran. The State Department has issued maximum-level advisory warnings for travel to Italy and South Korea.

In a statement, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) pushed back against "speculation about U.S. government action."

"Any action to restrict cruising is unwarranted, and at odds with the World Health Organization which 'continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks,'" CLIA said in a statement. "Singling out the travel and tourism industry, and cruise lines specifically, will have significant detrimental impacts—some possibly irreversible—on the national and local economies."

CLIA cited the economic importance of the cruise industry, which supports more than 420,000 jobs in the U.S. and generates about $50 billion in U.S. economic activity. In addition, the trade organization indicated that cruising can still be done safely. "With the proactive measures in place by the cruise industry based on prevailing guidance from global health authorities, restricting cruising is unreasonable," CLIA said. 

The White House is also reported to be considering economic measures to assist the cruise, travel and airline industries. According to the Washington Post, the administration is examining whether it could defer taxes for affected businesses in these sectors in order to limit the impact of the outbreak. 

At the state level, Hawaii's lieutenant governor said Friday that his state may consider hitting "the pause button" on cruise ship calls. The quarantined cruise ship Grand Princess called at Hilo and disembarked passengers on February 29 - one week before it was confirmed that 21 individuals on board have COVID-19.

To date, Hawaii has had no confirmed coronavirus cases, but that may change: state public health officials are now working to find people who may have come into contact with the ship's passengers and crew.

"This is one of the possible turning points where we do get individuals that turn positive for coronavirus," Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green told local KHON 2 News. “Hawaii, because we do take a lot of cruise ships in, may have to make the hard decision to hit the pause button. I think that people are starting to feel that way."