Airlines, cruise companies change itineraries to avoid China

Cruise companies are frantically re-routing or cancelling voyage itineraries as fear intensifies over the deadly and fast-spreading coronavirus.

The virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed at least 170 people and left more than 7200 people sick worldwide, including at least seven people in Australia, with others being tested.

In the wake of fears about the spread of the deadly coronavirus, cruise companies have updated itineraries to ships to avoid China’s mainland, where major ports such as Shanghai are eerily quiet.

“The cruise terminals in Shanghai are deserted. Nobody is travelling,” local tug boat operator Chichen Chen told the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s mass hysteria and fear now and nobody is saying when it will be over.”

READ MORE: Follow updates on the coronavirus outbreak

Holland America’s Westerdam ship leaves Hong Kong on Saturday for a 14-day cruise around Taiwan and Japan.

The journey was originally scheduled to conclude in Shanghai, but will avoid mainland China and end in Yokohama (Tokyo) instead.

Holland America said it would arrange for passengers’ onward travel and accommodation.

“All guests and their travel advisers are being notified of these changes,” the company said.

“Guests who have purchased their air through Holland America Line’s Flight Ease will have their return flights rebooked to depart from Tokyo rather than Shanghai at our expense.”

The cruise ship Seabourn Ovation will divert away from the Chinese port city of Xiamen and go to Sandakan in Malaysia instead.

The Crystal Symphony, which is operated by Crystal Cruises, had been sailing from San Diego to Hong Kong but has been diverted mid-trip. The company was understood to be working on alternative arrangements for the ship.

Other cruise journeys have been scrapped altogether.

Royal Caribbean has cancelled the Spectrum of the Seas trip from Shanghai to Okinawa in Japan following a “consultation with the World Health Organisation”.

Star Cruises, MSC, Genting, Victoria Cruise Lines and Costa Cruises — a subsidiary of cruise giant Carnival — are among the cruise companies that have also cancelled planned journeys.

One of Costa Cruises’ ships, the Costa Venezia, saw medical teams board on Sunday to check all 4973 passengers and 1249 crew after they returned from a cruise to Vietnam.

Of the companies continuing to sail, many have introduced extra health screening for passengers, while passengers who have recently been to China’s Hubei province, where the Wuhan coronavirus originated, are being refused from ships.

The Wall Street Journal reports freight shipping services are still operating in China but crews are not allowed to disembark and port officials have to wear protective gear when boarding ships.


The response from the cruise industry comes as airlines across the world cull or dramatically scale back services due to coronavirus concerns.

British Airways has suspended all flights to mainland China, along with American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Swiss, who have done the same.

Other airlines either cancelling or scaling back services include Air Canada, Air Seoul, Air India, Asiana Airlines, Finnair, IndiGo, Jetset Asia and Lion Air.

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific said it would keep flying to mainland China but slash capacity by half.

Air Tanzania has pushed back the launch of its new flight route from Dar es Salaam to China in the wake of the virus crisis.

Qantas says it has no plans to change its flight routes in and out of mainland China.

Virgin Australia, which does not fly to mainland China but has daily flights between Sydney and Melbourne and Hong Kong, said it was closely following advice from Australian medical authorities and the World Health Organisation about precautions to minimise risks from the virus, AAP reported.

Airlines that are continuing to fly to mainland China are scrapping hot meals, blankets and other provisions from planes to curb the spread of the contagious virus.

Reuters reports Taiwan’s China Airlines was replacing re-usable items with disposable ones, replacing tablecloths and napkins with paper towels, and encouraging passengers to supply their own drink bottles.

They have also stopped hanging out blankets, pillows, towels, magazines and newspapers and only providing drinks and headphones on request.

Cathay Pacific said hot towels, blankets and magazines would not be offered on flights to and from mainland China until further notice, Reuters reported.

Some airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, are letting staff wear face masks. Thai Airlines is spray-disinfecting cabins and cockpits on flights returning from China and other high-risk destinations.

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