Despite these efforts, the territory has seen a number of major cruise lines shift port calls from Hong Kong, most of them to Singapore.
Geared up to protect cruisers
‘The Kai Tak Cruise Terminal was designed with SARS in recent memory,’ says Jeff Bent, managing director at Worldwide Cruise Terminals (WCT), which manages and operates Kai Tak, referring to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by the SARS coronavirus in 2002.
‘Kai Tak, like all other Hong Kong border crossings, has full temperature screening for all passengers,’ says Bent. ‘We installed touch free soap, water and towel facilities in the lavatories, perform hourly cleaning with 1:99 bleach solution, temperature check our staff and contractors before they commence work, provide face masks for front line staff, and provide hand sanitizing gel in the terminal.’
WCT also provides up-to-date information to all staff members so they can exercise proper judgement in case of emergencies.
Bent is concerned that travelers are conflating Hong Kong and mainland China. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and shares a border with China’s southern Guangdong province, but since Monday, 10 out of 13 border crossings have been suspended to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
On January 31, the United States Department of State raised its travel advisory for mainland China to Level 4, warning Americans against all travel there. However, Hong Kong’s travel advisory has not risen above Level 2, with citizens advised to exercise increased caution.
This is the same advisory level for the UK, France, Germany and many other European countries, explains Bent, ‘so presumably Americans should feel as comfortable traveling to Hong Kong as to Western Europe.’
Early February 4 Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus fatality, the second outside of mainland China, reducing the number of confirmed cases to 14, slightly fewer than Singapore’s 24 confirmed cases. Meanwhile, China’s total confirmed cases has exceeded 20,000.
February 3 also marked the first case of coronavirus linked to a cruise passenger when a Hong Kong man aboard Diamond Princess tested positive for coronavirus six days after disembarking in Hong Kong. The ship is currently quarantined offshore at Yokohama Port, where it will remain until the results of coronavirus screening for all passengers and crew are released, according to a spokesperson for the port.
The coronavirus outbreak is just one more setback for Hong Kong, which suffered negative press in 2019 due to mass anti-government street protests. On January 9, Cruise & Maritime Voyages announced it had revised three 2021 itineraries to avoid Hong Kong following passenger concerns and a drop in sales.
Cruise lines that have cancelled calls to Hong Kong due to coronavirus concerns include Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Dream Cruises, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.