Cruise lines Princess and Viking halt all cruises as coronavirus spreads

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LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Princess Cruises will halt global operations of its 18 cruise ships for two months, after two of its ships carried passengers who were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The move came after another cruise ship operator, Viking, announced it would also suspend all ocean and river cruises until May 1. Viking has 16 ocean-going ships and more than 70 vessels overall.

Later in the day, Virgin Voyages, the new cruise line that is part of Virgin Group, announced that it will delay its inaugural voyage until August 7.

“The current global health crisis is understandably making many people rethink upcoming travel plans,” said Virgin Voyages’ statement.

No part of the travel industry has been hit harder by the coronavirus outbreak than the cruise industry. Demand for cruises has fallen dramatically. Health authorities have urged the elderly not to take cruises, which could expose them to the virus.

The Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked this week in Oakland, had 19 passengers and two crew members diagnosed with coronavirus. At least two passengers aboard the the Diamond Princess, which docked in Japan last month, have died from the coronavirus, according to health authorities. More than 700 people who were on board tested positive for the virus.

The cancellations make sense, given how much bookings for the cruises have dropped on the news of the virus on board some ships, wrote UBS analyst Robin Farley, who follows the cruise industry.

“We wouldn’t be surprised to see other cruise lines follow Princess decision to suspend operations,” Farley wrote in a note Thursday. “Between the lower occupancy from the ban on European travelers … and the industry’s proposal to temporarily ban passengers over age 70, in addition to passengers making use of generous cruise deferral policies, near term occupancy is likely to be low for all cruise lines.”

Executives from the cruise industry met with Vice President Mike Pence this past Saturday and suggested changes that they said would make their passengers safe, including rigorous screening of passengers before they get on the ship.

“Out of 272 cruise ships that are part of the [cruise industry] fleet, there have been very few ships affected which the industry believes points to the effectiveness of these changing policies and protocols,” said the trade group.

But reports of ships with sick passengers is making many people worried about cruises until this health threat passes.

Princess Cruises said that it will suspend operations within the next five days. It will, however, continue to sail through the end of its ships’ current itineraries so that passengers’ travel arrangements are not disrupted. Current voyages that are underway and extend beyond March 17 will end at what the company determines to be the most convenient location for guests to disembark.

Shares of Carnival Corp., which owns the Princess line, plunged 17% in afternoon trading on the news. Shares were already down 57% so far this year through Wednesday’s close. Its ships are still sailing.

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