Grenada’s cruise visitor season has closed more than three weeks early as the rapid spread of the coronavirus continues across the globe resulting in mass cancellations of cruise calls.
There were 31 scheduled cruise calls from March 17 to April 10.
On Monday, the Grenada Tourism Authority issued a statement, which said: “Local cruise officials have advised the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) of the following cruise ship cancellations” and went on to list 22 cancellations.
The GTA said it was awaiting word on the status of another nine scheduled cruise calls to Port St George.
Several hours after the GTA announcement, the government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell then announced that it would no longer allow cruise visitors to disembark in Grenada.
“Due to widespread transmission of COVID-19, the Government of Grenada announces, that effective immediately, passengers will not be allowed to disembark from any cruise ship on the shores of Grenada, until further notice,” the release said.
It went on: “This is part of Government’s ongoing efforts to ensure that the Tri-island State of Grenada is protected as much as possible, from contracting and spreading the COVID-19 virus.”
With most of the cruise calls cancelled as a result of a decision to halt all outbound cruises from the US as of Saturday, March 14, the Grenada government was left with no choice but to announce the ban.
Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC all agreed to stop their cruises and the Cruise Lines International Association said oceangoing lines would be “voluntarily and temporarily suspending cruise ship operations from and to US ports of call.”
The majority of cruise calls to Grenada originate in the United States and many of the cancelled calls were from the four lines that have agreed to temporarily cease cruises.
Days earlier Grenada was prepared to welcome the Costa Magica, an Italian registered cruise ship which at the time had raised concerns among other regional destinations about the possibility of COVID-19 infection among passengers.
More than 400 passengers were from Italy, one of the countries now experiencing a high rate of infection.
Grenada is still among a handful of Caribbean countries that have not yet announced any confirmed case of COVID-19.
Health officials said recently that ten persons have been tested since the outbreak began to spread beyond the borders of China early in the year and all tests were negative.
Grenada’s announcement that the country has now banned cruise calls is being viewed as a welcome, though long overdue action.
Many workers in the frontline of the cruise industry have been expressing fears that continued cruise calls would place them and the country at even greater risk of being infected.
Last week, the American CDC warned against cruise travel because COVID-19 is now being transmitted person to person and the virus has infected over 100, 000 people worldwide with thousands dead as a result.
“Cruise ship passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19,” the CDC said in a travel advisory.
At Grenada’s cruise port, employees such as security and police personnel have expressed fears that they could be exposed to the deadly virus as they were yet to receive personal protective wear, including face masks.
Hundreds of locals, including vendors, tour operators, retail clerks and transport operators interact directly with cruise visitors during the season which was officially scheduled to end in mid-April.
However, Grenada still faces a challenge with air travel and stay-over visitors since the country has not announced a total closing of its national borders like Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana.
Tourism accounts for almost 80 percent of Grenada’s GDP and the expected downturn in tourism as the virus continues to spread worldwide will be a major blow to an already flailing economy.
Several weeks ago Tourism Minister, Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen said that for economic reasons the island could not afford to close its doors to the tourist trade.
Recently Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne also said his country could not afford to stop the tourist trade because of heavy economic dependence.
Last week, one woman was able to get through screening protocols at the Maurice Bishop International Airport, spend an entire week on the island and the discovery that she is infected by COVID-19 was made only after she visited St Lucia and began exhibiting symptoms shortly after arriving.
Health officials said this week that they are still trying, through contact tracing methods, to track down people with whom she may have come into contact.
The woman, who arrived in the Caribbean from Britain, spent seven nights at a hotel along the popular Grand Anse beach.