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Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line halt cruises in response to virus

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Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings suspended voyages Friday, marking the industry's most sweeping response yet to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

[MIAMI] Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings suspended voyages Friday, marking the industry's most sweeping response yet to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Royal Caribbean said Friday it was halting all US cruising for 30 days. Norwegian suspended voyages embarking through April 11.

The cruise industry has been slow to respond to the crisis, even though cases of Covid-19 turned up weeks ago, starting on a Princess ship operated by Carnival Corp. Carnival's Costa division said it's halting operations until April 3.

But many hundreds of ships are still at sea, and the highly publicised coronavirus cases on Princess vessels have left the industry struggling to demonstrate that it's safe. The shutdowns show management is beginning to recognise that hygiene on ships needs to be improved and that the vacationing public needs to be reassured.

Earlier this week, the State Department went so far as to warn Americans to avoid cruising. Princess was the first of the big players to announce a shutdown, saying it will stand down for two months.

Until Friday, the industry's actions paled beside those of other businesses, including professional sports leagues' decisions to put their seasons on hold and protect fans from arenas where the disease might spread more easily.

Two outbreaks of coronavirus on Princess ships have strained public health resources and convulsed the industry, sending stocks plummeting.

The first Princess ship, Diamond Princess, was under a lengthy quarantine in Yokohama, Japan, with more than 700 people aboard testing positive for the virus. The Grand Princess docked Monday in Oakland, California, and had 21 confirmed cases.

Norwegian shares rose 15 per cent to US$11.10 Friday. Shares of Carnival, the industry's biggest player, advanced 17 per cent to US$17.58, while Royal Caribbean shares gain 6.8 per cent to US$32.33, but the gains only helped recoup a fraction of the selloff since January.

BLOOMBERG