Cruise ship travel remains a “manageable risk” for now, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.
“These are manageable risks and again we need to reflect on the fact that the vast majority of these cases are within China,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, during a press briefing.
“People who say we should steer clear of cruise ships or steer clear of airports or steer clear of certain ethnic groups and steer clear of other things, we have to be really careful here. We need an approach to managing risk that allows us to continue to operate as a society while minimizing the risks.”
Japanese authorities said Tuesday 542 cases of the coronavirus have been identified among the 3,711 passengers and crew on the quarantined Diamond Princess. An additional 14 Americans evacuated from the ship by the U.S. government – days ahead of the end of the ship's quarantine – tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, one American who had departed Holland America’s Westerdam for Malaysia on Friday has tested positive for coronavirus. The 83-year-old guest is currently in stable condition. According to Holland America, the rest of the guests tested negative and are all in the process of returning home.
While these stories have been capturing international attention, Ryan said it’s important to keep in mind they are the outlier.
“Outside Hubei, this epidemic is affecting a very tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of people, so if we're going to disrupt every cruise ship in the world on the off-chance that there might be some potential contact with some potential pathogen, then where do we stop?” he said.
Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of global infectious hazard preparedness at WHO, said infection prevention and control measures are difficult to implement in a ship environment because there are a number of factors that are very difficult to put under control.
WHO is working closely with the various constituencies and Japanese authorities, as well as the chief medical officer on those cruise ships, Dr. Briand said, to see what would be the best measures to put in place to protect the people.
WHO is also providing advice to countries on how to do screening, testing, contact tracing and treatment, and we have put out a call for US$675 million to support countries to prepare.
It also appears that COVID-19 is not as deadly as other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, according to WHO. More than 80% of patients have a mild form of the disease and will recover.
“We need to make sure that we focus on our public health objective, which is to contain the virus, not to contain the people,” Dr. Briand said.