Coronavirus and how it’s affecting the cruising community

This is not a debate about whether Covid-19 is going to kill you, or whether it’s nothing any of us should be getting our knickers in a twist about. And we will not be giving any space to the conspiracy theories popping up like Whac-A-Mole around the internet.

At the time of filming, 3rd March 2020, an online map showing the global spread of the virus from Johns Hopkins University has the total number of cases standing at 90,936. At the time of writing this blog, 8th March, it is standing at 105,859.

JHU world map, updated regularly. Click for link

In this post we want to talk about how Covid-19 is affecting cruisers and sailing channels around the world. The disease is featuring at the top of all news services and on social media, you can’t open your phone or laptop without reading about it. We are seeing panic buying in many countries. Why do people need so many toilet rolls?!

Watch the whole video here:

Putting aside the actual disease for one moment, there are practical problems cruisers are facing, or may soon face:

Some sea ports are closing to marine traffic
  • One cruiser we know sailed into Hong Kong in December, then made his way by air to Beijing. The crew went out of Hong Kong for a day sail and were refused re-entry! He’s now stuck in Beijing, the crew can’t come back and he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to leave.
  • Our friend, American McGee, is stuck in Thailand while his family are stuck in Shanghai.
  • Similar cases are trickling in every day from cruising friends around the world.

Map showing ports with restrictions and closures.

Sea ports are changing their entry requirements daily

This week Italy announced that all vessels calling at Italian ports, irrespective of the previous port of call, must apply to the Port Sanitary Office and ask for Sanitary Freepratique. This must include a Maritime declaration of health including a copy of the ship’s SSECC (Ship Sanitation Control Exception Certificate). We know of two sailboats who are grappling with this new requirement at the moment. Because cruisers don’t normally carry SSECCs, it will inevitably lead to confusion and delays at port control.

Then there are other factors to consider
  • What happens if you are on a long ocean passage and your destination closes to shipping while you are making your way there? Our friends on Steel Sapphire have just left Sri Lanka amid conflicting reports about whether or not they will be allowed to check in at their planned port of arrival in the Maldives.
  • And what if you have a “super carrier” on board who doesn’t start spreading the love until you’re hundreds of miles offshore?
Our situation

Many of you will know that we are still in Sabah, the northern Malaysian state of Borneo. Our plan is to get to the Philippines for the last part of the sailing season before heading back to Sabah in time for the Sail Malaysia Passage to the East Rally over the northern tip of Borneo to Tawau. We are the official media boat for the rally and will be filming the whole passage to this unvisited part of the world. But will it be going ahead and will boats in other parts of SE Asia be able to get here? We dunno!

The Sail Malaysia rally organisers say that there is no problem sailing between Sabah and Philippines “as of this moment” but we should all:

  • take our temperatures every day from departure to arrival “as this will [be] essential for submission to the Port Health Authority health screening check in most port of entry nowadays.”
  • present an “accurate last 10 ports of call list over the previous 6 months”…

This is all good. Right now. But we need to keep ourselves updated on the situation on a daily basis.

There are concerns from many local cruisers that the Philippines may close its ports to shipping from Malaysia. Equally, if we make it to Philippines, it might be that Sabah closes its ports to shipping from the Philippines. Both countries have closed their ports to shipping from China and we understand that S Korea may be next.

There is a long list of restrictions for boats coming from China “and/or affected countries…” into the Philippines. To those of us cruising in these waters this is a concern because all the SE Asian countries have Covid-19, so any country at any time may close its borders to its neighbours.

At the moment Sabah has no Covid-19, probably because the state banned flights from China weeks ago. Although this has kept the virus away it has hit the state’s revenue, and because tourism has plummeted local people are being laid off in bars and hotels.

Hand sanitisers are all over the marina and in some of the malls. Everyone coming into the complex, including hotel and marina residents like us, has their temperature taken at the gate.

If they decide to cut off all visitors we will be stuck here. It’s a pretty nice place to be stuck, but what happens when our visas rung out on 27th March?

A word about Covid-19

So far The World Health Organisation has not called covid-19 a pandemic, but on Thursday morning they raised the mortality rate from 2% to 3.4%. Seasonal flu, for which there is a vaccine, still kills a lot of people (around 400,000) every year. The mortality rate is 0.1%.

If covid-19 becomes as prolific as seasonal flu it could lead to millions of deaths.

Around 80% of cases present with only mild symptoms, but people might be spreading the disease without realizing it. The majority of us will be OK, but if you’re older or you have any kind of pre-existing condition (like asthma, heart problems etc) you are in more danger.

Interestingly, Muslim culture does not include shaking hands and certainly not kissing a greeting. Those visiting the masjid perform a purification ritual called ‘wudu’ which consists of washing face, hands (including arms) and feet five times a day. Each restaurant over here, however small or humble, has a basin on prominent display for everyone to use before and after eating. The same is true in toilets, where thoroughly washing hands is usually done before and after nature takes its course. Perhaps this is something we should embrace in the non-Muslim world?

So let’s all do our best to follow the WHO guidelines by washing our hands regularly. And NOT panicking.

We must protect the elderly and the infirm.

We have a tiny amount of hand sanitiser left on the boat (it sold out here weeks ago) and once that’s gone we’ll be doing the 20 second hand wash… will you?

World Health Organisation News Room

As always, thanks for supporting us and allowing us to share our adventure with you.

Peace and fair winds!

Liz, Jamie and Millie xxx

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