Greater Victoria Harbour Authority watching as Canadians warned to stay away from cruises

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WatchCOVID-19 concerns are affecting the future of B.C.'s cruise ship industry.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority says its cruise season is still scheduled to begin April 3 but it’s watching as COVID-19 cases continue to increase globally.

“We would much rather see a delay than just a total cancellation of the season, we don’t know where this is going to go, but we will defer to the experts,” Ian Robertson, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, said.

This year, Victoria is expecting nearly 300 cruises with 800,000 passengers.

“Our cruise season begins on April the third, at this point in time, we’ve had no cancellations and we are preparing for the beginning of the cruise ship season,” Robertson said.

The first ship of the season, the Grand Princess, is set to dock at Ogden Point on April 3. But that same ship is currently docked in California with 21 people diagnosed with COVID-19 aboard. The vessel is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries. There’s no word on the nationalities of the patients.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said passengers will be screened for symptoms before they board the plane, and those who exhibit them will stay in the U.S. for further assessment. Passengers without any symptoms will be quarantined for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada.

However, Champagne warned Canadian travellers there is no guarantee more government flights will come to the rescue in the future.

“People will be on notice, obviously, of the danger associated with getting into a cruise line at this stage, and therefore we will look at cases on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

He said the circumstances involved in the repatriation of citizens from the Grand Princess are “exceptional,” in part because the American government asked for Canada’s help and the cruise line will be paying the cost.

Tam is recommending Canadians avoid all cruise ship travel due to COVID-19.

As the outbreak continues, the next step may be to ban cruise ships coming to Canada. It’s a move the federal government is considering.

“With the ongoing outbreak that we’re having around the world now there’s really no way to effectively screen people out of cruise ships so it is really taking a chance on your health,” B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

Henry’s recommendation is to hold off the start of the season.

“We are in a very critical time around the world and it is my belief that we should be delaying our cruise season until we are in a safer place internationally,” Henry said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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