May 26, 2020
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International cruise ships reach Maine next month amid fear of coronavirus

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A cruise ship dwarfs Spring Point Light as it makes its way into Portland Harbor in this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo. One international cruise ship scheduled to arrive to Portland this summer has already changed its itinerary as a result of the coronavirus.

PORTLAND, Maine — The first cruise ship of the tourist season is scheduled to dock in Maine on April 25, bringing more than 300 travelers from around the globe to Bar Harbor. Hundreds of thousands more will arrive throughout the summer and fall tourist seasons.

But with the country facing the threat of a coronavirus outbreak, that plan may change and it could affect Maine’s tourist season. [Update: Portland City Manager Jon Jennings announced on March 13 that cruise ship operations would be suspended through April, affecting two ships.]

Reports emerged Thursday that “thousands” of passengers aboard Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess cruise ship, which sails the West Coast, may have been exposed to the coronavirus as it sailed between destinations including California and Mexico two weeks ago. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantined 62 passengers aboard the ship after 11 passengers and 10 crew members reported symptoms. A 71-year-old man on the ship has died.

More than 98,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus strain COVID-19 — including 3,383 reported deaths — had amassed by 1 a.m. Friday across the globe since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late January.

The reports have led one cruise ship to cancel plans to dock in an Asian city where outbreaks have occurred before bringing 2,200 people to Portland in May.

The cruise ship Amsterdam is currently in New Zealand, which just reported three coronavirus cases last week, and had been slated to arrive in the city of Singapore, where there are 117 cases, on March 25, according to its schedule.

The Amsterdam will no longer call in Singapore, a spokesperson from Holland America told the BDN on Thursday. They said that “it is much too early to predict if additional adjustments will be required before the end of May.”

The Amsterdam is scheduled to arrive in Portland on May 30. Holland America is owned by the same corporation as Princess Cruises, the cruise line that carried the newly reported cases.

State officials from the office of tourism say that they are not aware of any other adjustments to the schedules of cruise lines reaching the state, but that does not preclude changes or cancellations in the future.

“As part of the Governor’s Coronavirus Response Team, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development is working closely with the Maine CDC, which has a full-time staff member working to prepare for the implications of COVID-19 on this year’s cruise ship season in Maine,” said Kate Foye of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, who added that state agencies will work with the Coast Guard, Department of Transportation and the national CDC if a cruise ship scheduled to land in Maine has a passenger with the virus.

Cruise ships that reach Maine tend to travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Grandeur of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship which arrives in Portland on May 17 and in Bar Harbor the following day, is currently in the Bahamas, and will make stops in Bermuda, Florida and Maryland in March and April. Those places don’t have confirmed coronavirus cases now, but that could change over the next two months as health officials remain unable to halt the pathogen’s spread.

There is no evidence that the respiratory pathogen would be more vulnerable on any single cruise line. Passengers aboard cruise ships live around the globe, and as health officials prepare for the coronavirus outbreak to spread in the U.S., it will be difficult to screen them.

New screening measures that deny boarding to all passengers who have visited South Korea, Iran, China and Italy within 14 days before embarkation were announced Wednesday in a statement from the Cruise Lines International Association.

People who have the coronavirus can take an average of two weeks before reporting symptoms, according to the CDC. A recent study in a science journal found that symptoms have taken as long as 41 days to emerge.

In the U.S., 162 coronavirus cases are currently confirmed. More than 3,000 cases are confirmed in Italy, with several hundred more in France, Germany, Japan and Spain.

Maine’s tourism industry is heavily reliant on the influx of cruise ships from May through October. Bar Harbor expects fewer than 200 cruise ships to bring about 418,000 people there, including 295,000 passengers and 123,000 crew members. Roughly 226,000 passengers and an additional 74,000 crew members are expected in Portland, though those figures reflect many of the same ships that reach Bar Harbor.

Maine state officials have accelerated preparations for a coronavirus outbreak here. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has informed health care providers about containment protocols and efforts to increase public awareness, and lawmakers allocated $58,000 last week to pay for a new machine to test for the virus.

President Donald Trump has given inaccurate information about the threat of the virus, telling reporters Wednesday that he had a “hunch” that the death rate among those who contracted the coronavirus was less than 1 percent, contradicting a report from the World Health Organization this week that the global mortality rate of those who have the virus is 3.4 percent.

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Tuesday. “That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.”

 

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated where Maine’s first cruise ship of the season will stop and the number travelers expected to be aboard it.

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