Just how many passengers and crew got sick or died aboard cruise ships as the coronavirus spread across the world in early 2020? The cruise industry has largely stayed silent about the COVID-19 cases aboard their ships.
No regulatory agency, government, or global health body is known to be publicly tracking the millions of people who found themselves on cruise ships in the first months of 2020. And the cruise lines kept selling cruises and mistreating their employees and customers despite coronavirus outbreaks on board ships and warnings from public health officials.
As no thorough data was made available by officials, the Miami Herald has attempted to track the COVID-19 cases that happened on board. According to the Herald's database, during or directly after a cruise, at least 2,592 people have had a positive laboratory test for COVID-19 and at least 65 people have died. That is likely not the complete picture. The COVID-19 cases found by the Herald were linked to at least 54 cruise ships. That number could also grow as more cases are reported.
Breakdown of COVID-19 Cases Linked to Cruise Lines
According to Bloomberg, Carnival Corp. executives, including the CEO, knew about the coronavirus' spread in China as early as January. But the cruise line didn't take proper safety precautions, ignoring warnings. Carnival's CEO defended the response arguing that it was similar to that of the governments that were slow to react to the coronavirus crisis.
However, the head of the CDC's cruise ship task force said that the COVID-19 infection rates onboard vessels is much higher than what can be seen on land at other public places. She added that cruise passengers are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 as they're generally more mature travelers. She also pointed out several cruise ships sailed on their trips well after the company knew it was risky to do so.
Below you can see the main cruise lines and the COVID-19 cases linked to them ordered by the number of cases:
- Carnival Corporation: 1740 cases and 53 deaths
- Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.: 486 cases and 6 deaths
- Aurora Expeditions: 128 cases and 1 death
- MSC Cruises: 101 cases and 1 death
- Phoenix Reisen Cruises: 64 cases and 3 deaths
- Disney Cruise Line: 37 cases
- Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: 14 cases
- Fred Olsen Cruise Line: 13 cases
- TUI Cruises: 6 cases and 1 death
- Genting Cruise Lines: 3 cases
Timeline of COVID-19 Cases on Diamond Princess and Ruby Princess
Below is a timeline of the events involving Diamond Princess and Ruby Princess, the cruise ship with the highest number of COVID-19 cases:
January 20:The Diamond Princess cruise ship, owned and operated by Carnival Corporation departed from Yokohama Port, Japan.
January 25-31: The Diamond Princess proceeded to Hong Kong - Chan May Port, Vietnam - Cai Lan, Vietnam - Keelung, Taiwan, as part of its 16-day voyage.
February 1: The Diamond Princess proceeded to Naha, Japan. Hong Kong's government announced that COVID-19 was confirmed in an 80-year-old man, a passenger on the Diamond Princess who had left the ship on January 25.
February 3: The Diamond Princess docked off Daikoku Pier at Yokohama Port. 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members were quarantined on the ship for 14 days.
February 4-21: 10 people on board the Diamond Princess were confirmed positive for coronavirus. 10 cases soon turned into 705 and 6 people lost their lives. It became clear that the coronavirus can spread very quickly on cruise ships. Also, the outbreak on the Diamond Princess received worldwide attention.
March 8: The Ruby Princess cruise ship, also owned and operated by Carnival Corporation, docked in Sydney, coming from a previous tour. According to the logs, 158 passengers on board were sick. However, the ship's master emailed port authority officials to report no illnesses onboard. After the ship docked in Sydney, four passengers tested positive.
March 8-9: The same day, 2,700 new passengers joined over 1,000 crew members, without any quarantining or disinfection, and the Ruby Princess set sail for another 11-day trip.
March 19-20: The Ruby Princess returned to Sydney harbor. All of its 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark, with many heading immediately to domestic flights. After disembarking, one crew member was placed into isolation on the ship, two passengers presented to Sydney hospitals for testing, and one passenger was taken directly to a hospital. Later, all four tested positive for Covid-19.
March 21-24: The number of confirmed cases rose to 647 in total and 22 passengers died.