Carnival Cruises Under Fire for Adding 'Huge Strain' to US Efforts by Continuing to Sail Despite Coronavirus Spread

The Carnival Cruise Line has been the hardest hit among the cruise lines during the coronavirus pandemic, and the U.S. government does not think it is a coincidence. More than 1,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 39 people have died after being aboard a Carnival cruise ship, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report. Cindy Friedman, an epidemiologist and member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's cruise ship task force said the company added a "huge strain" on the U.S. during this crisis.

Carnival President and CEO Arnold Donald told Bloomberg the company's response to the crisis was reasonable under the "unprecedented" circumstances. "Nothing's perfect, OK? They will say, 'Wow, these things Carnival did great. These things, 20/20 hindsight, they could've done better,'" Donald said. He added that his company should not be condemned before "analyzing what New York did to deal with the crisis, what the vice president's task force did, what the Italians, Chinese, South Koreans, and Japanese did. We're a small part of the real story. We're being pulled along by it."

Friedman disagreed that Carnival can just play victim of circumstances at this point. "Maybe that excuse flies after the Diamond Princess, or maybe after the Grand Princess," she said. "I have a hard time believing they’re just a victim of happenstance." Friedman noted that some cruises began after they were aware of the risks of the virus, adding, "Nobody should be going on cruise ships during this pandemic, full stop."

Carnival's first coronavirus outbreak happened on the Diamond Princess in February. The cruise ship was home to more COVID-19 infections outside of China at that time. By March 24, the CDC said 712 passengers and crew members tested positive for coronavirus, with 46.5% of them asymptomatic when they took the rest, reports CNN.

On March 4, the Grand Princess faced an outbreak after it left San Francisco for Hawaii. Even after the captain told everyone on the ship to quarantine inside their cabins, passengers still took advantage of as many perks as they could. Passengers were eventually allowed off the ship in Oakland, California, but crew had to stay on. It was not until Wednesday they more than 100 crew members were allowed off, reports USA Today. The ship has been docked in Oakland since March 9, after 21 coronavirus cases were reported. At least 103 people on the ship tested positive and two died.

Donald told Bloomberg Carnival is now bringing in remaining passengers and is trying to dock its ships until the pandemic ends. About 3,200 passengers and crew are still on ships.

Other governments are looking into Carnival's operations. Australian police are looking into the Princess Cruises subsidiary because it might have lied about an outbreak on a ship now docked in Sydney, and Princess says it is cooperating. The Costa Cruises subsidiary vowed to "vigorously defend" itself after passengers filed lawsuits over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Carnival canceled all future cruises in mid-March. The cruise business has been among the hardest hit in the travel industry, with Carnival's share price dropping 75% this year so far. The cruise industry was not included in the U.S. government's recent bailout for businesses, facing bipartisan opposition. Although Carnival chairman Micky Arison has spoken with President Donald Trump, it looks like opposition to a cruise bailout will continue.

"There was very strong bipartisan opposition to a cruise industry bailout, and there will continue to be," Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told Bloomberg. "They have flown under international flags, and abated or skirted taxes, with a record of predatory conduct. They need to prove that they’re going to follow American norms and laws."