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'If we sanitise, it will be fine': cruise fans ignore US alert

[MIAMI] At the world's busiest cruise port, thousands of vacationers paid little heed to a government warning that Americans should avoid setting sail on the massive ships.

Passengers lined up at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd's Miami terminal Monday to board the Norwegian Sky, with few expressing concerns about contracting the new coronavirus that's infected more than 113,000 people worldwide.

Michelle Yaminitsky, a 20-year-old student at North Carolina State University, and three of her friends booked a five-day cruise to the Bahamas two months ago for their spring break vacation. Norwegian had offered them a credit to sail at a later date, but this was the only time they could all go together.

"We definitely heard a lot of criticism for going on it," Ms Yaminitsky said. "But we decided if we sanitise, it will be fine."

The coronavirus has been stressing health systems around the world, pressuring economies and battering stock markets. Cruise lines have been slammed after more than 700 people on a Princess ship tested positive near Japan, while another that docked in California on Monday had at least 21 cases. The US State Department warned that citizens should avoid taking cruises, particularly those with underlying health conditions.

Carnival Corp shares tumbled 20 per cent amid a market rout on Monday, while Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. slid 26 per cent and Norwegian plunged 27 per cent. In less than two months, the three US-based operators have lost about US$47 billion in market value.

But the scene at PortMiami suggested that at least some cruise fans are undeterred by the virus.

At a passenger unloading zone across from the Norwegian terminal, baggage handlers were busy taking suitcases from travellers arriving in cars. Kevin Moore, a 46-year-old longshoreman, said PortMiami was busy as usual despite the government's warning.

Still, there were precautions: When Mr Moore came into work, he had to have his temperature taken before his shift began.

Alex Mrouge, 20, Albert Hilbert, 22, and Mike Williams, 22, also said they aren't worried about the coronavirus as they waited to board the Norwegian Sky for a spring break trip.

Mr Mrouge said as long as he avoids contact with a lot of people, he should be fine. "And if you do, wash your hands," he said.

"Worse comes to worst, we get quarantined," Mr Hilbert said.

The prospect of a quarantine worries Ee Thao, a 35-year-old Norwegian Sky passenger from Minneapolis, who said staying on the ship for an extended period would be difficult since she and her husband wouldn't be able to get home for their kids and work. Still, she wasn't going to back out of the trip she had been planning for a year.

"I wasn't too worried about the virus," Ms Thao said. "We were going to go regardless of what happened."

BLOOMBERG