A coach and an ambulance travel towards the Diamond Princess cruise ship, operated by Carnival Corp., docked at dusk in Yokohama, Japan, on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020.
Toru Hanai | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The cruise industry has submitted a proposal to the White House that would impose restrictions on travelers over the age of 70 as well as those with chronic medical conditions as the coronavirus spreads, two sources familiar with the matter told CNBC.
The proposal would restrict people over the age of 70 from getting on a ship unless they can provide written consent from a doctor, the sources said.
Cruise officials were expected to meet at the White House Wednesday to receive a response to the proposal. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department urged Americans not to travel on cruise ships.
Two high profile quarantines – the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan and the Grand Princess off the coast of California – have raised questions as to whether the cruise lines are taking the right steps to minimize the risk of infection from the virus, which has resulted in more than 124,000 confirmed cases globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 4,589 people have died worldwide.
Adam Goldstein, CEO of the Cruise Line International Association and former Vice Chairman of Royal Caribbean, told CNBC’s Squawk on the Street that the industry submitted the proposal following Vice President Mike Pence’s request to beef up containment measures.
“We had 72 hours in which to respond, which we were able to do yesterday in time. We feel like we have been responsive on prevention, on detection, and on care for guests on cruise ships, and we believe that we’ve now elevated our ability to manage any situation that would arise and that people should feel comfortable to cruise with us,” said Goldstein.
He added, “Either elderly travelers or travelers with serious chronic underlying health conditions are the most vulnerable segment of the population, and we need to take that into account.”
Data from the Cruise Line International Association shows the average age of passengers on cruises is 47 while just 14% are 70 or older.
The cruise industry is already grappling with lower demand as more travelers stay at home. Data from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey shows a 35% plunge in cruise bookings last week, compared to the same time a year ago.
Royal Caribbean withdrew its first quarter and full year 2020 guidance. In a rush to secure additional financing, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line both secured additional lines of credit.
Credit rating agencies have also sounded alarm. S&P put Carnival and Royal Caribbean on credit watch negative, writing “we believe it is increasingly likely that the demand for cruises will remain weak even after the virus is contained.”
But “we’re a resilient travel sector. We’re a resilient bunch of people…we’ve been through other remarkable, unprecedented, and unforeseen challenges and we’ll get through this one too,” said Goldstein.
Correction: The coronavirus has resulted in more than 124,000 confirmed cases globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 4,589 people have died worldwide. An earlier version mischaracterized the figures.