The Coronavirus Outbreak

By David Yaffe-Bellany

The company’s flagship line said eight of its ships could begin cruising on Aug. 1, though it later said “there is no assurance” it would start sailing again on that date.

The Carnival Corporation has been widely criticized for actions it has taken during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Carnival Corporation has been widely criticized for actions it has taken during the coronavirus pandemic.Credit...Angel Valentin for The New York Times

The Carnival Corporation, the giant cruise company widely criticized for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, announced on Monday that some of its ships may begin sailing again as soon as August.

For months, lawmakers and epidemiologists have blamed Carnival for failing to contain outbreaks on its ships and spreading the virus across the world. Its response to the pandemic is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Australian police and a congressional investigation in the United States.

Despite that growing scrutiny, the company’s flagship cruise line said that eight of its ships could begin sailing on Aug. 1, about a week after a government order banning cruises in the United States is set to expire. Those ships, part of the Carnival Cruise Line brand, are scheduled to depart from ports in Galveston, Texas, Miami and Port Canaveral, Fla.

It would be only a partial reopening, and the timing could change as the company devises new safety protocols for its cruises. The eight ships that are slated to return to service are a small portion of the Carnival Corporation’s fleet of 105 vessels. Carnival Cruise Line said voyages on several of its other ships would be canceled through the beginning of October.

Royal Caribbean, the main rival to Carnival, has not set a date for restarting its cruises, though other cruise companies could set sail even earlier than August. A spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruises, Maria Elena, said on Monday that the company intended to “relaunch cruise operations” on July 1, though she declined to say where those cruises would take place.

After a series of deadly outbreaks, critics of the cruise industry remain skeptical that the companies have the medical expertise to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has sickened hundreds of cruise passengers over the last four months.

“They’ve got billions of dollars in assets that aren’t earning any income, and they want to get those going as quickly as possible,” said Ross Klein, a sociologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada who studies the cruise industry. “And they really continue to be more focused on the economics than on the public health.”

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its “no sail order,” banning all cruise travel in the United States until July 24. A C.D.C. spokeswoman, Caitlin Shockey, said the agency has not consulted with any of the cruise companies on the timeline for restarting cruises.

“We do not have enough information to say when it will be safe for cruise ships to resume sailing,” Ms. Shockey said.

Over the course of Monday, Carnival Cruise Line backtracked several times as it outlined its plans to start sailing this summer. In an initial statement, the company said it planned to “resume cruises” on the eight ships “beginning August 1.”

In a second statement, the company played down the possibility of an Aug. 1 start date, saying that “any resumption of cruise operations — whenever that may be — is fully dependent” on discussions with government officials.

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Line, Chris Chiames, said in a separate email that the exact reopening date would be subject to change.

“There is no assurance of a return on Aug. 1,” Mr. Chiames said. “Our intent was to convey that we will take a phased-in approach, no matter when that it is, and focus resources and new protocols on a limited number of operations.”

Asked to list the new safety protocols that the company plans to use in August, Mr. Chiames did not provide any specific examples but said the company would conduct enhanced health screenings and provide “additional sanitation.”

“These are all things that we are continuing to discuss internally and with government officials and public health experts,” he said.

On cruises, passengers live in close quarters, dining together and gathering in large groups for comedy shows and casino nights. For decades, cruise ships have battled outbreaks of norovirus. And during the pandemic, ships have become coronavirus hot spots. In February and March, the Carnival Corporation fumbled its response to outbreaks on several ships, including the Diamond Princess, where eight people died and more than 700 were infected.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said cruise companies hoping to set sail this summer should consider instituting temperature checks and other health screenings for passengers and reducing the number of people on board.

“If you start out with a reduced number of passengers, that’s very useful,” Dr. Schaffner said. “That can have ramifications for all of the activities on the cruise ship.”

The Australian police are investigating whether the staff of a Carnival Corporation ship that docked in Sydney misled local authorities about a coronavirus outbreak on board.

And on Friday, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure began investigating the company’s response to the virus, asking it to turn over internal communications related to the pandemic.

In addition to the bad publicity, the cruise shutdown has put a financial strain on the Carnival Corporation.

Since the beginning of the year, the company’s share price has plummeted more than 70 percent. In late March, the company began an effort to raise $6 billion by selling stock, bonds and other securities, with a strikingly high interest rate of 12.5 percent attached to some of those bonds.

  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.