Saint John braces for impact after cruise line cancels ships for 60 days due to COVID-19
Princess Cruises' decision comes just weeks before Port Saint John's predicted banner cruise season begins
Princess Cruises, one of the main cruise lines with ships scheduled to visit Saint John this season, announced Thursday it will suspend its global operations for 60 days due to COVID-19.
The voluntary measure comes as passengers on two of Princess Cruises' ships — Diamond Princess and Grand Princess — have become infected and been quarantined, both abroad and in North America, in recent weeks.
It also comes just weeks before Port Saint John's predicted banner season is about to get underway, with 90 ships and more than 200,000 passengers scheduled to visit the city.
The first Princess Cruises ship, the Caribbean Princess, isn't scheduled to arrive until Aug. 2, carrying up to 3,000 passengers.
Port Saint John officials declined to comment on Thursday.
"We have no new statement for today," spokesperson Paula Copeland said in an email.
CEO Jim Quinn will be making a statement on Friday, she said.
New Brunswick has the first confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Atlantic Canada, the province's chief medical officer of health announced Thursday.
The woman, who is between 50 and 60 and recently travelled to France, was reported as a "presumptive" or probable case on Wednesday, and further testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg confirmed she was positive, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Avoid mass gatherings
The woman is now isolated at her home in southeastern New Brunswick and her state is "mild to moderate," she said.
Russell has recommended postponing or cancelling any gatherings of more than 150 people in the province to help "delay and minimize the impact" of COVID-19.
Saint John's cruise season begins April 24 with the arrival of the 200-passenger Victory II.
Beth Hatt, the founder of Aquila Tours, which takes cruise ship passengers on excursions around the region, said she's monitoring the situation closely.
Saint John's biggest cruise season months are September and October so she's "hoping and praying" the pandemic will have settled down by then, she said.
"It's millions of dollars for the community — around $100 million I think in New Brunswick, the cruise industry alone. For us, it's a considerable impact."
For every large ship that visits, Hatt estimates Aquila takes between 1,000 and 1,200 passengers on bus tours and walking tours.
"Obviously it's going to impact no matter how we look at it. People may not cruise as much. There may not be completely full ships. So there will be an impact," she said.
But it's too soon to predict what it will be.
"Everybody is just kind of sitting and waiting to see what the spread is going be like in America — both Canada and the U.S., and seeing what the travel restrictions will be. Like, there's so much out of our hands."
In February, more than 700 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan contracted the virus and six people died. About 3,700 passengers and crew spent close to four weeks in quarantine.
At least 22 people have tested positive after being on the Grand Princess, off the coast of California.
Last week, Canada's chief public health officer warned people to "think twice about going on cruise ships," noting they "present environments where COVID-19 can spread easily given close contacts between passengers and crew for significant periods of time."
Up to 40,200 Princess passengers expected
The Caribbean Princess has four other scheduled stops in Saint John in September and October.
The cruise line's Sky Princess, which can accommodate up to 3,600 passengers, has seven visits scheduled, extending into November.
Princess Cruises operates 18 ships. The cruise line's voluntary suspension affects trips departing March 12 to May 10.
Passengers on a cruise now that ends within five days will continue on, as scheduled, officials said.
Current voyages that extend beyond March 17 will be cut short at the most convenient disembarkation location for passengers, they said.
Under normal operations, Princess Cruises serves more than 50,000 passengers a day, according to officials.
With files from The Associated Press and Rachel Cave