Ports, Maritime Industry Keep Careful Watch For Coronavirus

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of February 5, there were 24,554 total confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, also known as novel coronavirus, scattered across some two dozen countries worldwide. That was an increase of 3,925 cases from the day before.

Of those cases, 24,363 (99.2 percent) were confirmed in China. The disease is believed to have originated in a market in the central China city of Wuhan. WHO also reported 492 known deaths from the disease, with all but one occurring in China.

Of the 191 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus outside of China, 11 are in the United States.

Those 11 cases account for only 0.0447 percent of the total known cases of novel coronavirus. Still, with the relatively unknown yet highly contagious nature of the disease, federal agencies and private industries have taken significant steps to prevent the further spread of 2019-nCoV to the United States.

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Within the cruise industry, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have all enacted similar passenger restrictions related to 2019-nCoV. For Carnival, customers who have been to China in the past two weeks are not allowed to board the vessel. For Royal Caribbean, the cut-off is 15 days. For Norwegian, that restriction is 30 days before the cruise. The cruise lines are also conducting enhanced health screenings of passengers when necessary.

As of February 5, Carnival’s Diamond Princess ship—with around 3,700 people on board—was quarantined in Japan, with some 20 passengers diagnosed with the coronavirus and others awaiting test results. Japan’s total number of infected people as of February 5 was 33. A second cruise ship, Dream Cruises’ World Dream, was quarantined in Hong Kong pending test results.

No U.S.-based cruises have been impacted by the coronavirus, other than the travel restrictions for boarding passengers.

Ports and terminal operators along the Gulf Coast are following the lead of the Coast Guard, which has issued specific protocols related to 2019-nCoV.

According to the Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) dated February 2, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port must be notified when someone onboard a vessel calling on a port or facility exhibits symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Symptoms are similar to the flu or common cold and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The bulletin points to 42 CFR 71.21, which requires the Captain of the Port to be notified when any ship crew member has been ill or died within 15 days of a U.S. port call. The MSIB states passenger vessels carrying passengers who have been to China within the past 14 days will be denied entry. Furthermore, the MSIB states commercial vessels with crew members who have been in China in the past two weeks, as long as crew members are asymptomatic, may conduct normal operations with one main restriction: crew members must stay aboard the ship the duration of its time in port.

Although many vessels with ties to China call on Gulf Coast ports regularly, so far, no impacts from the novel coronavirus have been felt.

Recommendations for avoiding infection include steering clear of close contact with those suffering from respiratory infections, frequently washing hands, avoiding contact with farm and wild animals, and using hand sanitizer. Anyone who is sick should “practice cough etiquette,” including keeping away from people, covering coughs and sneezes and seeking medical treatment.