Ottawa is close to making a decision on whether to delay the cruise ship season, senior government sources say – a move that could hurt the tourist economy on both coasts, but may be necessary to protect Canadians from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Officials from Transport Canada are talking with managers of ports and the cruise ship industry to discuss the options, sources told The Globe and Mail, adding that a final decision will be made on the advice of public health officials.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to discuss plans under way by the government.
One source said the government can ban cruise ships as a health precaution under the Quarantine Act, or use regulations to bar the tourist vessels from Canadian ports for a set period.
“The government is looking at all options,” Amy Butcher, director of communications for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said when asked if the cruise ship season could be delayed.
In response to questions on Wednesday about whether his government would suspend the arrival of cruise ships, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would say only that decisions are based on ensuring the health and safety of Canadians.
“We are looking at different measures, including cruise ships,” Mr. Trudeau said in French. “The season is going to start soon, and we have to think about how we are going to protect the Canadians who could take these cruise ships.”
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Garneau is working with the special cabinet committee on COVID-19 regarding measures to ensure the health and safety of Canadians specifically as related to cruise ships.
Canada is looking at co-ordinating measures with U.S. authorities, because the cruises come from south of the border, Mr. Champagne added.
This week, the Public Health Agency of Canada formally advised Canadians to avoid all cruise ship related travel after the federal government announced over the weekend that it would repatriate passengers from the stricken vessel Grand Princess to a military base in Trenton, Ont.
Cruise ships have passengers from all over the world who may be arriving from areas with known or unknown spread of the virus, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said in Ottawa on Monday.
British Columbia’s Chief Public Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, also recommended delaying the cruise season “until we are in a safer place internationally."
“We know that this will impact businesses here in Victoria; the tourist industry is being hard-hit by this. But my primary concern is the health and safety in B.C., and I have grave concerns about cruises right now.”
Preparations have been under way at Victoria’s cruise ship terminal for this year’s season on the West Coast, but Canadian port authorities, cruise lines and the hospitality sector have been waiting to find out if it will begin at all.
Cruise ship visits to Canadian ports generate more than $3-billion annually for the economy. Victoria is expected to receive 800,000 passengers this year, starting on April 3 with the ill-fated Grand Princess.
Donna Spalding, spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association’s northwest and Canadian region, said her industry is offering Transport Canada a plan to increase screening processes for passengers and crew. The association maintains any action to restrict cruising is unwarranted.
The Port of Seattle has announced it is delaying the first two sailings of its season.
“The health, safety and well-being of our residents is our top priority," Port of Seattle Commission president Peter Steinbrueck said.