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Economy & Business

Princess Cruises CEO Explains Decision To Halt Global Operations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Princess Cruises is halting global operations of its cruise ships for 60 days. This comes after hundreds of people on two of the company's ships, the Grand Princess and the Diamond Princess, tested positive for the coronavirus. Jan Swartz is president of Princess Cruises and joins us now.

Welcome.

JAN SWARTZ: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: What happens to people who are currently on a Princess cruise who were in the middle of a trip when this announcement was made?

SWARTZ: Our guests that are currently onboard our Princess fleet are for those cruises that end March 17 or before - will continue as planned to their port of disembarkation so that we minimize the disruption to their onward travel. And for cruises that were intended to be longer than that date, we're making accommodation to shorten the itineraries, take them to close locations and arrange for their safe return home.

SHAPIRO: The infection on the Diamond Princess cruise ship killed eight people. More than 700 were infected with the coronavirus. Should you have caught it earlier?

SWARTZ: You know, our hearts break for all the families and people who have been impacted and have gotten sick from this terrible virus. And I'd say we, along with the Japanese government, have done everything in our power to look after the health and safety of our guests and our team. But there is no playbook for what we've been battling. And I would say every day and every hour of every day, we've learned new things and new ways to better care for our guests and team.

SHAPIRO: Cruise ships have experience with disease outbreaks. And so why weren't staff on the ship prepared when passengers were wondering why they weren't screened more carefully, why temperatures weren't taken, why they weren't visited by medical personnel more quickly?

SWARTZ: Our reporting obligations are very rigorous. So before we arrive at any port of call in the world, a cruise ship declares every medical case onboard the ship. This is unlike most every business I'm ever aware of, whether it's hotels, churches, etc. Because we have onboard doctors, nurses, paramedics, we have very detailed medical records. And because coronavirus was so new at the time, China had just indicated to the world all that it knew about the disease. When we pulled into port, the Ministry of Health in Japan took control and had the authority over deciding how our guests and crew would be treated from a medical and public health perspective. And so they are who took the decision to quarantine the ship and directed all of our activities for how to best care for our guests and crew.

SHAPIRO: I know that you're not a public health expert, but, you know, neither are most American mayors who are now overseeing communities that are trying to manage and respond to the spread of this disease. Are there things from a corporate, institutional level overseeing the response that you think would be helpful for other communities to understand right now?

SWARTZ: Sure. I think some of the lessons that we've learned from both Diamond and then we implemented on Grand Princess was to make sure that as soon as people test positive for coronavirus, they need to be taken to a hospital or medical facility and that those people who are perhaps in a ship or a hotel - if they're negative, they should go home and isolate themselves at home as quickly as possible.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us one specific thing that you'll be doing now that you might not have been doing before?

SWARTZ: Well, we're doing all sorts of new training of our people onboard. We've increased the level of sanitation across our ship. We've given our crew personal protective equipment. And then, of course, we've put in place temperature scanners at the port of embarkation. But now, as you know, effective this weekend, the vast majority of our cruises are concluding successfully. And we're going to take these next 60 days to reset.

SHAPIRO: Jan Swartz is president of Princess Cruises.

Thank you for talking with us today.

SWARTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.