A health expert says back-to-back cruises can make it harder to fight outbreaks

Royal Princess Cruise Ship

  • Cruise lines frequently send crew members on months-long deployments, requiring them to jump from one cruise to another.
  • Travel lovers will at times get off one cruise ship and onto another, potentially carrying with them infectious diseases that infect passengers on the second cruise.
  • A Florida couple aboard the Grand Princess is suing Princess Cruise Lines for up to $1 million in damages for being exposed to coronavirus after crew and passengers from an earlier cruise boarded their ship.
  • One epidemiologist says cruise lines need new policies to keep crew and passengers safe.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, a health expert questions whether cruise lines should allow passengers and crew members to ride on back-to-back cruises.

"Closed spaces where people are having frequent contact with one another over several days is a recipe for an outbreak," said Abraar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School working on population-wide COVID19 response. "If they are going from one cruise to another, they certainly pose a risk of spreading disease."

Earlier this year, Business Insider spoke to dozens of cruise line employees who described being at sea for up to 11 months, moving from one cruise to another and working seven days a week. But crew members aren't the only people jumping from one ship to another.

"Just because your ship is docking, doesn't mean your vacation is ending," Royal Caribbean states on its website as an invitation for passengers to take back-to-back cruises. Princess Cruise Lines also offers consecutive cruises, which recently became a key element in a lawsuit against the cruise line.

On Monday, a Florida couple sued Princess Cruise Lines. The couple claims it was exposed to COVID-19 when it boarded the Grand Princess on February 21 on a vacation to Hawaii. That voyage had 62 crew members and included passengers who had just come from a previous cruise that later found members who tested positive for COVID-19.

"Knowing that some of those passengers and crew had already been exposed to COVID-19, the Defendant Princess has exposed Plaintiffs to actual risk of immediate physical injury," the lawsuit alleges.

Karan said that COVID-19 patients can shed the virus for weeks after they're sick. That creates a recipe for trouble across cruise lines where crew and passengers may "pick up something on one cruise, develop symptoms a few days later on their next cruise, and accidentally [expose] tons of people on the next ship."

Ultimately, Karan said people should not go on cruises during the coronavirus outbreak. He also cautioned that the coronavirus outbreak should alert cruise lines to adequate testing for possible outbreaks and limiting crew and passenger exposure.

"We will have to think carefully about what kind of public health policy makes the most sense for cruises," he said. "Enhanced screening measures, like checking temperatures regularly, may be important."

Princess Cruise Lines told CNN in a statement this week that it remains "focused on well-being of our guests and crew within the parameters mandated on us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness."

Get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.

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