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Shanghai Wusongkou Cruise Terminal chairman on the impact of COVID-19

China passenger screening.JPG
In the early stages of the outbreak, before ship calls were cancelled, passengers were strictly screened and temperatures were checked
Following China's COVID-19 outbreak, Wang Younong, chairman of Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal, gave an exclusive interview to Seatrade Cruise News about its impact on the port and local cruise community and steps to recovery.

Q: As one of the busiest cruise homeports in Asia, how was Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal impacted by the spread of COVI-19?

A: Definitely, COVID-19 is a severe challenge to the port and we are facing unprecedented operational pressures. During the period between January 20-29 (when the Chinese authorities started to take strict measures to control the spread), all cruises from the terminal were cancelled

'Zero infection' at Wusongkou

This affected four cruise ships operating 10 homeport sailings with over 40,000 inbound and outbound passengers. There have been no direct coronavirus infections via Wusongkou to date and our terminal staff are all in good health. It is quite difficult to achieve 'zero infection'  but thanks to efforts by the local cruise lines, together we carried out a series of effective measures to control the spread of the virus.

As early as January 14, Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal initiated a control mechanism and paid closer attention to any passengers arriving from the centre of the epidemic and arranged special boarding and departure channels for them. Starting from January 21, homeporting cruise lines introduced refund policies for bookings.

We undertook a strict examination of each passenger and used advanced equipment for quick and accurate body temperature testing. Additionally, port and customs authorities also implemented strict measures to secure the public health safety on board the cruise ships.

Coordinated prevention and control plan

We also set up joint prevention and control mechanism with local government, customs, immigration inspection, public security and cruise lines for the prevention and control of the outbreak. Baoshan district government arranged three hotels offering nearly 1,000 beds for putting into quarantine any detained passengers.

In addition, e-tickets played a key role in response to the outbreak. We utilize the trial ticket platform to screen passenger information and easy identification of anyone who resided in the epicenter of the outbreak which helped improve the efficiency and accuracy of passenger examination.

We would like to express our special thanks to Royal Caribbean, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and Astro Ocean Cruise. They all took immediate actions in response to the outbreak and cooperated with Chinese customs and government departments, initiated the contingency plan and strengthened the prevention and control. They all showed high social responsibility and outstanding emergency response capability.

Q: How badly has COVID-19 affected Wusong International Cruise Terminal? What are the impacts on China’s cruise industry?

A: Wusongkou is a commercial cruise port. Cruise ship calls are the only income for us. Currently, about 90 calls have been cancelled, nearly a third of 2020’s bookings, which is a great loss to us.

Sailings had to be cancelled and deployments adjusted, and the lines lost revenues.

Lay-berth fees waived

During this period, we have allowed the ships to be berthed at our port and waived all berthing fees.

The outbreak has hit China’s cruise industry hard. The whole industry chain suffered a loss. However, I do not think it will change the positive and long-term growth pattern.

Firstly, cruise tourism is mature in China and the COVID-19 outbreak will not change Chinese consumer demand After the outbreak of SARS in 2013, China’s tourism market grew exponentially within three months.

Economic stimulus

Secondly, the central government is adopting effective measures to revive the economy while fighting against the outbreak. On February 8, the Shanghai government issued 28 policies to support foreign-investment companies. On the same day, Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism held online meetings with cruise lines and related parties to discuss and understand real-time status and problems caused by the COVID-19 outbreak including a recovery strategy and providing tax reductions, financial support to cruise tourism companies, an optimized business environment and increased professional training, etc.

Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism is pushing forward to analyze the feedback and we believe that the central government will soon release related policies to stimulate cruise tourism after the outbreak has subsided.

Thoughts on Diamond Princess 

Q: The COVID-19 outbreak on Diamond Princess in Japan aroused wide attention. What suggestions do you have for public health on cruise ships?

A: Diamond Princess was the first cruise ship to berth at Wusongkou when the port launched, and highly popular with Asians. We felt a great empathy for what happened on the ship. It was a nightmare for the global cruise industry. We respect Princess Cruises for their actions.

With COVID-19, any type of group gatherings are risky. I don’t think cruise tourism is more dangerous than other tourism activities. The prevention and control measures the Chinese government adopted on land are also applicable for cruise ships, such as strengthening port examination and quarantine procedures and testing temperatures of each passenger and further examinations of those with high temperatures or who feel unwell.

1. Allocate more public health professionals and medical care personnel, especially those familiar with infectious disease. Set up a chief medical officer system and public health safety risk evaluation and warning system; improve management and storage of medical supplies.

2、Strengthen the cooperation with the public health authority particularly at homeports. Establish long-term cooperation mechanism with the local public health department and try to include cruise shipping in local public health systems and make contingency plans to get timely support from the local port authority.

When will cruise tourism resume?

Q: The Chinese government took decisive actions to control the spread of COVID-19 and achieved positive results. When do you expect the outbreak will end and when will cruise tourism resume?

A: The number of new infections is declining and more patients are recovering. The actions and the results have been recognized by the World Health Organization. According to Zhong Nanshan, Chinese medical advisor and epidemiologist, the coronavirus outbreak in China is expected to end in April.

The local cruise business will be able to push forward when the outbreak ends, however, the revival will need joint efforts by cruise lines, travel agencies and related parties. The key for reviving the cruise tourism market is to reduce the negative influences that COVID-19 brought to the market. We should actively strengthen the positive publicity and improve brand image.

Being a cruise port, we are paying close attention on the status of COVID-19 cases and have been actively communicating with governments and the cruise lines. We are optimizing the port facility and service procedures and making preparations for a resumption of operations soon.