Cindy Friedman, the epidemiologist who is leading the CDC’s coronavirus cruise ship task force, told Bloomberg Businessweek in an explosive interview that the actions of Carnival Cruises amid the pandemic has put a ‘huge strain’ on the United States
Carnival Cruises helped fuel the coronavirus pandemic by still sailing its fleet of ships even when the company’s executive knew it was risky, according to a CDC epidemiologist.
Cindy Friedman, the epidemiologist who is leading the CDC’s coronavirus cruise ship task force, told Bloomberg Businessweek in an explosive interview that the actions of Carnival Cruises amid the pandemic has put a ‘huge strain’ on the United States.
‘If these ships had stopped sailing, our large team could all be working on helping states and local public health authorities with their community outbreaks,’ she said.
‘Nobody should be going on cruise ships during this pandemic, full stop.’
Friedman said several Carnival cruises still set off on their trips even after the company’s executives knew it would be risky due to the deadly coronavirus outbreaks.
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald defended the company’s response to the unfolding crisis, saying it was reasonable given it is an unprecedented global pandemic.
He compared Carnival’s response to COVID-19 to that of local governments across the United States, saying: ‘Each ship is a mini-city.’
Donald said Carnival’s response should be judged alongside how New York, the White House coronavirus task force and other countries like Italy and Chinese reacted to the pandemic.
Carnival Cruises helped fuel the coronavirus pandemic by still sailing its fleet of ships even when the company’s executive knew it was risky, according to a CDC epidemiologist
‘We’re a small part of the real story. We’re being pulled along by it,’ he said.
‘This is a generational global event – it’s unprecedented. Nothing’s perfect, OK? They will say, ‘Wow, these things Carnival did great. These things, 20/20 hindsight, they could’ve done better.’ ‘
Friedman, however, said maybe that ‘excuse’ would have been acceptable after Diamond Princess or Grand Princess voyages, but she has a hard time believing Carnival is ‘just a victim of happenstance’.
She acknowledged that it would have been difficult getting people from their ships to their home ports without infecting anyone else, but pointed out several Carnival ships didn’t start voyages until after the risks became apparent.
Arnold also argued that cruise ships don’t spread coronavirus more easily than other places, but the CDC epidemiologist said that was misleading.
She said coronavirus infection rates were nearly 20 percent on two Carnival ships.
Carnival’s executives became aware of the health crisis as early as January after Carnival’s innovation chief John Padgett had made contact with a manufacturer in Wuhan, which was the origin of the global outbreak.
‘The biggest thing about that – it’s a learning I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and we shared it with Arnold when we were talking – is that we actually had insight into the global situation much earlier than most,’ Padgett told Bloomberg.
While Grand Princess passengers eventually disembarked at the Port of Oakland and were taken to US bases for quarantine or repatriated to their home countries, hundreds of crew members remained on board under quarantine
The company’s Grand Princess ship was was barred from returning to port in San Francisco in March after authorities learned dozens of passengers and crew had tested positive for the coronavirus. Passengers are pictured disembarking on March 9
In total, the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess have had at least 850 confirmed infections and 14 deaths linked to them so far.
About eight of Carnival’s ships across the world have become COVID-19 hotspots with a total of 1,500 infections and 39 deaths.
Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess ocean liner is currently part of a homicide investigation in Australia as the country’s deadliest virus infection source.
Two of the company’s 100 ships are still at sea having not been able to dock anywhere.
The company’s Diamond Princess ship was quarantined in the port of Yokohama, Japan, on February 3 where 712 passengers were ultimately infected in what was then the biggest concentration of confirmed cases outside China. Nine passengers died, according to the CDC.
Another outbreak occurred aboard the company’s Grand Princess ship, which in March was barred from returning to port in San Francisco after authorities learned dozens of passengers and crew had tested positive for the coronavirus. The ship was subsequently quarantined: 103 passengers have since tested positive for the coronavirus, while two passengers and a crew member have died.
While Grand Princess passengers eventually disembarked at the Port of Oakland and were taken to Us bases for quarantine or repatriated to their home countries, hundreds of crew members remained on board under quarantine.
The nearly 650 crew members completed their 14-day quarantine last Saturday, ending a nearly month-long period of self-isolation.
The CDC issued an advisory on March 8 urging Americans not to travel on cruise ships worldwide. On April 9, the CDC extended its ‘no sail order’ for all cruise ships for up to 100 days.
In a call with reporters on Thursday, CEO Donald defended the company’s safety record, saying Carnival followed protocols from international authorities while handling high-profile coronavirus outbreaks aboard the two ships.
‘With (the Diamond Princess) we did exactly what we were told to do, because we cooperated with the Japanese Ministry of Health,’ Arnold said.
‘We followed their protocol; they decided to hold the ship, they decided to put the quarantine in place. Our job was to respect it and execute it, which is exactly what we did.’
On the Grand Princess, Arnold said: ‘We worked with the CDC, we worked with all the local authorities there – the governor, the ports, and as everybody figured out what they wanted to do. And we were in compliance with each of them.’
Carnival and other cruise companies are not eligible to receive funding from the CARES Act because they are incorporated outside of the United States.
Carnival´s shares are down 77 percent since January 1.
On Thursday, Arnold said Carnival, which is incorporated in Panama, has no plans to re-incorporate elsewhere. He said that he hopes to have some existing debt in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy extended and to defer the maturities on that debt at this time, as a result of stimulus packages in those countries.
Speaking on CNBC on April 14, Arnold said Carnival´s bookings for 2021 are strong.
Jan Swartz, the president of Carnival’s Princess Cruises, told Bloomberg that she believes the ordeal and how they handled it will make passengers more likely to travel with them in the future.
‘There are many loyal Princess guests who have told us that this has actually cemented Princess as their No. 1 vacation choice,’ Swartz said.