White House considers cruise ship shutdown amid coronavirus crisis

The cruise ships have been a focal point in the outbreak, with more than 700 cases linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan for two weeks, and at least 21 more confirmed aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland, Calif., on Monday.

The State Department and CDC over the weekend warned elderly and medically fragile Americans to avoid cruise ships for the duration of the outbreak, with the CDC recommending that travelers “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.”

However, a senior administration official said that top health department officials — including career scientists like NIH infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and Trump appointees like Azar, CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Surgeon General Jerome Adams — “are in agreement that we need to do more” to crack down cruise ship travel. The official declined to specify the steps being considered, given the potential to affect financial markets.

Administration officials have debated whether to effectively ban Americans’ use of cruise ships for the duration of the crisis, another individual said, which could include steps to limit cruise ships’ access to U.S. waters. Cruise industry officials, who met on Saturday with Vice President Mike Pence, are pursuing new self-imposed measures to protect passengers amid the outbreak, which could influence the White House response, one individual said.

HHS referred questions to the White House. “As the secretary and public health officials have said all along, the response to the Covid-19 outbreak will adapt as the outbreak evolves,” a spokesperson said, adding that the administration had planned for a “full spectrum of responses” as needed.

The White House did not respond to request for comment.

Some White House officials have balked at taking such steps, arguing that it could harm the U.S. economy and particularly affect Florida heading into the 2020 election, the individuals said. More than 13 million American passengers took cruises in 2018, according to a report by the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s lobbying group. About one in three cruise ship passengers are age 60 or older, the report concluded, likely placing them at elevated risk of complications from the coronavirus.