A trip that was scheduled as a birthday gift to her 64-year-old husband ended in tragedy when Eva and Ronald Wong boarded the Grand Princess in San Francisco this past February. Unbeknownst to them, but most likely known to Princess Cruises and its parent company Carnival, the novel coronavirus had begun wreaking havoc on cruise ships around the world, and the Wongs were about to find themselves at the epicenter of the virus’ infection of the state of California. A month after returning from their voyage, Mrs. Wong would endure the loss of her husband having never been allowed to visit him in the hospital.
The Wongs are not alone in their grief or their loss. Five people from that sailing have died and 131 have tested positive for an illness that has swept the globe and left unfathomable devastation in its wake. As of this writing, Princess Cruises is facing 12 lawsuits filed by passengers or their families for this voyage alone.
The cruise industry’s failure to act on the coronavirus while risking their passengers’ and crews’ lives, as well as the lives of those they would encounter in ports of call and upon their return to their homes, would be mind boggling were it not for the millions of dollars at stake. As the world recoiled, cruise companies kept their ships sailing. As the rest of us began social distancing, cruise ships kept passengers in close proximity for days on end. And, as hospitalizations pushed healthcare systems around the world to their limits and beyond, the cruise industry pulled out all the stops to keep its passengers traveling. At least one would go so far as to lie to passengers concerned about their trip and what the virus meant for their travels.
Given the cruise industry’s unique position of not only having customers in close proximity for days and weeks on end but also the nature of its travel to ports around the world, the CDC began paying close attention to cruises as a vector for infection. It wasn’t until the agency issued a national no-sail order on March 14th that the industry had no choice but to dock its ships and end its role in spreading a global pandemic.
Sadly, for people like the Wongs and others, that action came too late. We can only hope that the lessons learned from these events will not be forgotten when the next pandemic strikes.