Norovirus Strikes Regal Princess

September 2, 2003
Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess has abruptly shortened a voyage due to an outbreak of Norovirus after 296 passengers (out of a total of 1,528) and 44 crew members (out of 679) were taken ill on a European cruise. The ship had departed from Copenhagen on August 18 – on a 16-day transatlantic crossing and was slated to arrive in New York, the final port-of-call, today. However, shipboard officers determined that, after the now-usual extra-strength sanitizing procedures and other programs (ill passengers receive free medical treatment and are confined to cabins while sick) failed to halt the spread of the notoriously contagious Norovirus, it would hasten the journey. Two ports were canceled – Qaqortog, in Greenland, and St. John’s, in Newfoundland, and the ship arrived in New York yesterday.
According to a statement issued by Princess Cruises, “at the onset of the increased incidence of gastrointestinal illness, which occurred on the third day of the cruise, we immediately intensified sanitation efforts onboard Regal Princess to minimize transmission to other passengers.”
In fact, Princess, which like other cruise lines has become much more aggressive about fighting the onboard spread of NoroVirus since last year’s multi-ship-multi-cruise-line epidemic, says that strategies it implemented on Regal Princess included:
*Using a powerful sanitation solution to regularly clean all food and beverage areas of the galley, affected passenger cabins, public restrooms and all surfaces in the ship’s public areas (e.g. handrails, door knobs, elevator buttons) including soft furnishings, multiple times each day
*Suspension of all galley tours
*Slot machines and casino furnishings were sanitized several times daily
*Gym equipment was sanitized regularly
*Public restroom doors were propped open to reduce risks of unwitting door handle contamination
*Bar snacks were offered in single servings only
*All dishwashers were being checked hourly to ensure they were operating at a temperature of 165F or above
*Passengers who reported to the medical center with symptoms were treated, without charge.  Passengers who were unwell were asked to isolate themselves in their stateroom until non contagious and comply with the doctor’s instructions.  Unwell passengers were also asked not to proceed ashore, and any shore excursion costs were refunded.
*Room service was provided to affected passengers and every effort was made to make them as comfortable as possible.
As drinking large amounts of clear fluids is helpful for diarrhea, Princess provided complimentary bottled water to affected passengers.
On its part, Princess offered Regal Princess passengers a variety of benefits – some one would only consider fair, such as refunds for shore excursions and government taxes and fees in the missed ports -- but also with more-value-added perks. The latter included $300 onboard credit for every passenger and a full refund of the cruise fare for each day “we were unable to deliver.” Any passenger needing airfare assistance – regardless of whether or not they’d participated in Princess’ air/sea program – were offered help in rescheduling flights.
A company source says that Regal Princess, which is slated to launch its autumn season of New England/Canada fall foliage cruises between New York and Montreal, will depart as scheduled.