‘Virus incubators’: Expert calls for cruises to be cancelled
A QUEENSLAND infectious diseases expert has called for cruises to be cancelled during the coronavirus crisis.
Griffith University's Professor Nigel McMillan described cruise ships as "virus incubators", saying he would not be holidaying on one himself in the current environment.
The Smarttraveller website has urged Australians to "reconsider" taking an overseas cruise or at the very least consult a medical professional before embarking.
"Australians, particularly those with underlying health concerns should reconsider taking an overseas cruise at this time due to COVID-19," the website said.
"Repatriation from cruise ships affected by COVID-19 should not be relied upon as an option."
Professor McMillan's warning comes after the US State Department at the weekend warned Americans to stay off cruises during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
It also follows eight people dying and more than 700 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess becoming infected with COVID-19 after an 80-year-old Hong Kong man was diagnosed within days of leaving the boat.
Japanese health officials forced thousands on board the Diamond Princess to remain on the ship for weeks in quarantine, a measure later criticised by infectious disease experts.
"The Diamond Princess shows us that they (cruise ships) are very difficult to manage any kind of quarantine for coronavirus," Professor McMillan said.
"Getting the passengers off and into proper quarantine is the best way to deal with this but with 5000 staff and passengers on some of the larger liners this is no easy task.
"The industry needs to rethink cruises in the current environment and I wouldn't be going on one right now myself.
"The industry won't want to hear this but I think they need to cancel trips in the current pandemic."
Professor McMillan is the infection and immunity program director at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland.
His concerns coincide with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that people defer all cruise ship travel worldwide, given the increased risk to passengers during the coronavirus epidemic.
To curb the spread of the new coronavirus, some countries have denied entry to cruise ships and prevented passengers from disembarking.
Late yesterday, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, made up of state and territory chief health officers, as well as the federal chief medical officer, supported a recommendation for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade upgrade its travel advice regarding cruises.
But the health committee noted the risk of acquiring infection on a cruise ship was highly depend on the countries it stopped at "with a number of cruises only visiting low risk countries at this time".
"Smaller size cruise ships also presented a lower risk than very large vessels," the committee said.
Australia evacuated more than 160 Australian passengers off the Diamond Princess on February 20, flying them to Darwin, where they endured a second 14-day quarantine period.
Some of them later tested positive to COVID-19, including three Queensland women who were flown home to recover in isolation in public hospitals.
A Perth man, retired travel agent James Kwan, 78, who tested positive to COVID-19 in Darwin after he was evacuated off the Diamond Princess, became the first Australian to die from the virus.
Since the coronavirus contamination on the Diamond Princess, other cruise ships have been impacted, including the Grand Princess, where at least 21 people have tested positive to COVID-19.
The ship, which has Australians on board among about 3500 people from 54 countries, has docked in california after being held at sea for five days.
Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word for crown because of the crown-like spikes that protrude from cell surfaces.
Other viruses in the same family include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.