Over the past several weeks, the stories surrounding cruises and coronavirus have been nothing short of terrible.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, cruise ships were at the forefront of the crisis in the media.
Take a look at just some of the headlines reported during the outbreak:
- Passengers on ‘Death Ship’ Plead for Rescue as Virus Strikes (Bloomberg)
- ‘We’re in a Petri Dish’: How a Coronavirus Ravaged a Cruise Ship (New York Times)
- COVID CRUISES: Cruise ships sailed on despite the coronavirus. Thousands of people paid the price. (Miami Herald)
It turns out, however, that while cruise lines have received a substantial amount of press, they are currently tied to a surprisingly small number of cases worldwide.
In fact, analysis by Cruzely shows that cruise ships are linked to 0.07% of confirmed coronavirus cases. In other words, 99.93% of confirmed cases around the world had no direct tie to cruising.
How Many Cases of Coronavirus Are Linked to Cruises?
For weeks, stories about COVID-19 and cruising were regular features on nightly news, newspapers, websites, and social media. So how many people on cruise ships were actually sickened by the outbreaks?
The Miami Herald has developed a resource to track all the cases of the illness tied to cruise ships. Their data includes breakdowns based on ship, voyage, cruise line, and more.
For reference, about 28.5 million people take cruises each year. That means from February, when the coronavirus first started to appear on cruises, to mid-March, when cruises were suspended, we can estimate there were about 3.5 million passengers that sailed. There were also hundreds of thousands of crew members sailing around the world.
According to the data, almost three thousand people — both passengers and crew — fell ill from cruise travel. Of those, approximately 75 have died. About 60 ships around the world (22% of cruise ships around the world) have cases tied to them.
To be sure, these figures are tragic. The numbers represent real people — not just data points.
In the context of the struggle against coronavirus, however, these figures are surprisingly small. For instance, as of April 27, there were 4,913 cases in U.S. meatpacking facilities according to the CDC. That number is almost double the number of cases on cruise ships globally. (Note: More recent statistics from USAToday tragically put the number of cases at meatpacking facilities at more than 10,000.)
One other thing to note is that of the 2,787 cases, 1,359 (48.8%) came from just two ships — the Diamond Princess and the Ruby Princess.
The Diamond Princess, which had more than 700 people fall ill, was held in quarantine in Japan. During that time, the number of cases rose quickly when the virus continued to spread among passengers and crew. In an interview with CNN, a Japanese health official later said the quarantine “may not have been perfect.”
One outlier is the Ruby Princess, which docked in Sydney. It’s still under investigation as to why it was allowed to dock by authorities without proper precautions. It is linked to about 10% of cases in Australia.
What Percentage of COVID-19 Cases Are Tied to Cruise Ships?
Since the pandemic began, there have been 3.78 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins. That’s resulted in a staggering 264,000 deaths.
With 3.78 million cases worldwide, the roughly 2,800 confirmed cases linked to cruise ships represent less than one-tenth of one percent of the cases seen around the globe. In fact, it comes to 0.07% of total cases.
That means there was about one case tied to a cruise ship for every 1,350 cases around the world.
Adjusting for the number of worldwide cases back on March 28 (allowing 14 days for new cases to appear after cruises were suspended), then the illnesses on cruise ships come to about 0.4% of global cases.
As for the almost 75 deaths linked to cruise ships, they account for 0.03% of those seen worldwide during the crisis. That comes out to about one death tied to a cruise ship for every 3,500 deaths due to COVID-19.
Does This Mean Cruise Ships Are Less Risky for Coronavirus Than Thought?
Let’s be clear that we are not implying the chances of getting sick on a cruise is any less likely than getting sick elsewhere. Wherever there are people in close proximity to each other, whether it be a cruise ship, an airplane, or a sporting event, then illness can spread.
That’s why we applaud that the industry suspended cruising in mid-March. It was a move that no doubt helped to limit the spread of COVID-19 around the world, given that 57 ships already saw cases. There’s no argument that more cruises would have led to more cases occurring on ships.
The CDC’s “No Sail Order” is also appropriate given the current pandemic.
Instead, it’s important to note that the cases of coronavirus on cruise ships has seemingly been small compared to the amount of coverage received.
That’s not to say cruise lines deserve a free pass during the outbreak for any cases on ships simply because the number is relatively low. Some of the news reports and allegations regarding the handling of the pandemic on cruise ships bring up real concerns that deserve attention.
However, passengers — and the public — should have an accurate picture of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cruise ships.