As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in the U.S. and abroad, Norwegian Cruise Line has reportedly been pressuring its employees to lie to customers about the dangers of setting sail amid the outbreak.
The Miami New Times reported Wednesday that an anonymous Florida-based employee of the cruise line came forward saying that some managers have been telling salespeople to mislead customers about the virus.
Leaked emails acquired by the outlet include prepped responses reportedly drafted by management and containing misinformation to be shared with any customer who brings up fears about the illness on board — including that passengers are safe from contracting the coronavirus because of the warm Caribbean climate where many of its ships sail, which is false.
Norwegian did not reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
“Team, these are one liner’s [sic] to help you close your guests that are on the fence. DO NOT USE THESE unless the coronavirus is brought up,” the email reads.
Some of the “one-liners” include: “The coronavirus can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise,” and the coronavirus “cannot live in the amazingly warm and tropical temperatures that your cruise will be sailing to.”
Both of those statements are incorrect, according to Infectious disease expert Dr. William Haseltine, who tells PEOPLE that “the idea that people are not going to get [coronavirus] because they take a cruise to the Caribbean is dangerous, it’s wrong, and it’s irresponsible.”
Adds, Dr. Robert A. Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University, “Coronaviruses, in general, survive in all kinds of environments, including tropical.”
Another suggested talking point from the leaked emails stated: “Scientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the Coronavirus.”
This is also misleading, according to Dr. Haseltine. In temperate climates, most people contract the cold or flu in the winter and cases slow down in the summer, but that’s not necessarily true of the tropics, he explains.
“If you look at the distribution in tropical climates, it’s not that people don’t get colds and flus — they are more persistent and not as seasonal. They persist throughout the year at a lower, but nonetheless, cumulative level. It is less common for any given month, but collectively over the year, it’s pretty common.”
The travel industry has been taking a serious hit financially amid the outbreak, with bookings down and cancellations on the rise, according to the New York Times. Many travelers are wondering where it’s safe to travel and by what means.
Cruise companies received more bad news on Sunday, when the State Department issued a warning that U.S. citizens “should not travel by cruise ship” during the coronavirus outbreak, noting that the “cruise ship environment” can foster an “increased risk of infection.” The CDC issued a similar statement.
Despite the official warnings, many major cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, are continuing to operate their planned itineraries.
“Cruise ships are very unfavorable environments for disease transmission,” says Dr. Haseltine. “To continue running cruise ships is irresponsible. And we can see what the consequence is.”
Serious outbreaks have already occurred on two Princess cruise line ships: One was quarantined off the coast of Japan in early February after the illness was reported on board, with 621 people eventually testing positive. According to Reuters, seven former passengers have now died.
Another ship carrying at least 21 people who have tested positive docked in Oakland yesterday. Those passengers will be quarantined on land.
Princess has a list of upcoming voyages that have been cancelled on its website. It includes cruises to affected areas in Asia, but also San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, urging world leaders and citizens to take action to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Worldwide, there are now 121,545 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 4,373 deaths.
There are at least 1,015 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, and 31 people have died, mostly in Washington state. The majority of U.S. cases are in Washington, California and New York, and all three have declared a state of emergency to redirect funding.
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