Cruise ship being held off California for virus testing is scheduled to come to Victoria

Less than a month before it’s scheduled to pull into Ogden Point, the Grand Princess cruise ship was waiting off San Francisco on Thursday for passengers and crew to be tested for the novel coronavirus.

Passengers on the ship’s previous cruise have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Thursday, the 951-foot vessel is still booked to arrive in Victoria as the first cruise ship of the season, said Ian Robertson, chief executive of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

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The Grand Princess is scheduled to pull in at 7 a.m. on April 3 from Vancouver, and depart at 2 p.m. for San Francisco.

The ship, with 235 Canadians on board among about 2,500 passengers, had begun a trip from San Francisco to Hawaii when the coronavirus problem was discovered.

Another Grand Princess cruise to Hawaii, set to run after its current trip but before the B.C. visit, has been cancelled.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a teleconference Thursday that some of the Canadians on board the ship are likely from B.C.

She called the situation “rapidly changing and evolving” and said health authorities will work with their federal counterparts to “get a better understanding of what is going to be happening with that ship.”

With B.C.’s cruise-ship season set to start in a matter of weeks — most Alaska-bound vessels stop in Victoria and Vancouver — discussions with the industry about risks and mitigation are ongoing, Henry said.

“Is it enough to screen people who are coming on board a cruise? Is that working?” she said. “I think a whole variety of options are on the table and all of those will be in place before the start of the season and we have confidence in that.”

The province is working with the federal government to determine responses to any outbreak.

“It is a worry, for sure,” she said.

No Victoria cruise-ship arrivals have been cancelled to date, said Robertson, speaking from London, England, at a Cruise Lines International Association conference, where participants are barred from shaking hands. “We are planning for a full season and that will be our position until we hear differently.”

This year, about 770,000 passengers are expected to arrive on almost 290 ship visits to Victoria. Thousands of crew members typically come to shore, too.

The harbour authority has called on health officials for advice, said Robertson, who is hoping for direction in the next week. If additional screening of those arriving from the ship is required, “then [health authorities] will be the ones that will do that.”

In the past, if a ship arrived with a case of norovirus and some passengers were quarantined in their rooms, the harbour authority implemented an additional level of cleaning at terminals, Robertson said.

Staff do extra cleaning of hard surfaces and hand-sanitizing stations are made available.

“I imagine that we will put that in place regardless of what direction we get,” he said.

Also unknown is how many passengers will be onboard the cruise ships when they come in, said Robertson, who is particularly concerned about small businesses that rely on the cruise sector for the majority of their income — from operators of shore excursions to businesses in downtown Victoria.

Delegates will be discussing the coronavirus today at the London conference, Robertson said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “knee-jerk” reactions to the outbreak will not keep people safe. He defended Canada’s decision not to close its borders to foreign nationals coming from regions where the outbreak is spreading.

Misinformation being spread about the virus is having negative effects on some communities’ ability to keep their populations safe, Trudeau warned while speaking to reporters in Toronto.

“We’re going to stay focused on doing the things that actually matter: on empowering Canadians to make the right decisions for their own health, for their families’ health, listening to experts, working to co-ordinate with health authorities across the country, including in all provinces and territories, and ensuring that our response is active and up to date every step of the way.”

Princess Cruises previously made headlines over a quarantined Diamond Princess cruise in Japan that had more than 700 passengers infected with the virus.

For more information on the COVID-19, go online to bccdc.ca.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

— With The Canadian Press

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