Not a destination problem
As nations of the world battle an invisible enemy from within and without, drastic action to severely limit the movement and gathering of human beings became increasingly necessary.
Amidst dire predictions and near-panic reaction following the World Health Organisation’s declaration of a pandemic (March 11, 2020), daily tally of those who tested positive, or succumbed to COVID-19 continued to mount. In some places the numbers were doubling every 24 hours.
In response to the rapid spread of this coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued (on March 17) a warning: ‘CDC recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide.’ The warning, a de facto cease-and-desist order for the cruise industry was not unexpected. Nonetheless, it was a blow to both the cruise lines and the destination ports.
By then, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC had already suspended their itineraries. Brands suspending operations also included Regent, Viking, Oceana, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Disney, Cunard, et al.
Several Caribbean cruise destinations had also closed their ports to scheduled cruise calls because of medical reports regarding specific ships; but, also, for fear that infectious diseases on board would somehow come ashore. This decision had revenue implications with cost impacts for both private and public sectors. But that reality could hardly have been made a determining factor. And, even if weighed in the balance, would have been found wanting.
Notwithstanding, pressure and veiled threats from cruise lines citing contractual obligations, sought to force destination ports to dock cruise ships despite local concerns about reported COVID-19 infections aboard. The Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica were among the countries to stand firm as cruise lines tried desperately to find a welcoming port.
Meanwhile, perhaps for the first time ever, Caribbean nationals became uncomfortable with the sight of an approaching cruise ship. Many (via social media) expressed discomfort with several cruise ships being in their ports at the same time, using adjectives like ‘corona city’ and ‘petri dish’ to describe local cruise ports hosting berthed ships.
The Caribbean reality is that although cruise business accounts for a significant share of gross domestic product and provides a livelihood for large numbers of retailers, transporters, artists and artisans, among others, there is not the infrastructure and resources to handle a massive and concentrated demand on their generally under-capitalised health systems. And in those situations, sympathy is at hand, but real help is an ocean away.
In a previous edition of PORTSIDE CARIBBEAN, the following observations were documented::
“Despite the luxurious splendour and opulence, most cruise ships do not have hospitals on board and are therefore not as equipped as might be expected to deal with certain major medical emergencies. There are of course clinics and medical facilities. Most even have a morgue. But whereas the medical capabilities are essentially geared to deal with issues such as an outbreak of a stomach virus, most doctors on board do not have hospital emergency room qualifications, according to one lawyer who has led litigation against cruise lines. With ships carrying up to 6,000 passengers and crew in port, port managers, especially in smaller cruise destinations, should remain conscious of this reality.”
Rather than leaning on government authorities in destinations to dock cruise vessels with contagions aboard, cruise lines should ensure that their ships are equipped and manned to effectively address the medical needs of all those on board. Cruise passengers have a right to medical care commensurate with the style and quality of service that enticed them to travel. Although a dilemma for Caribbean cruise destinations, this is a cruise line issue and obligation, not a destination problem.
Local governments already stretched for scarce resources, have their own residential populations to serve and protect. 
- First published April 2, 2020.