Coronavirus spread prompts concerns on cusp of Invergordon £18m cruise line season; 17,000 passengers set for Invergordon over six-month season
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MOUNTING fears over the spread of coronavirus has cast a shadow across an Easter Ross town's record-breaking £18m cruise industry which is scheduled to bring 178,000 visitors over a six-month season starting within weeks.
The first planned arrival this year is on April 3, beginning a season running into October which will see 103 ships – some carrying up to 3500 passengers – docking in Invergordon.
One anxious Invergordon resident who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease said he was "terrified" by the uncertainties surrounding the spread of the virus and its potentially deadly impact on vulnerable people. He said: "I know the cruises are worth a fortune to those who benefit from them but I'm terrified not just for myself but my children and grandchildren. Folk are talking about it wherever you go. I don't feel safe thinking of thousands of people milling around the town. I think protecting people's health is paramount."
Another said: "Cruise passengers mob the bus serving Alness, Evanton and Inverness for months. What precautions will they take re cruise ships from coronavirus-affected ports? Will they officially control their docking and disembarking to keep locals safe? This is a very serious issue for local health protection. There could be thousands of people from coronavirus-infected ports swarming around Invergordon and on public transport. Locals have a right to be protected.
The Port of Cromarty Firth said yesterday that to date there have been no cruise cancellations.
Chief executive Bob Buskie said it is working closely with all relevant bodies, including Highland Council’s Port Health Authority and the Department for Transport "to ensure appropriate measures are in place to manage the ongoing coronavirus situation".
He pledged developments will be closely monitored and policies and procedures modified as necessary "with the utmost consideration for the health and safety of the public, passengers and crew members".
He said: “Every possible safeguard has been put in place to protect against infection from coronavirus. All ships coming into the Cromarty Firth must complete a coronavirus (COVID-19) vessel arrival declaration form in advance of their arrival into the port. This must state if any passenger or crew member is suffering from the symptoms of the illness or if they have travelled from, visited or transited via known areas infected by the coronavirus.
"The responsibility for managing COVID-19 rests with the Highland Council Port Health Authority, who will examine the form and only if they are satisfied will the go-ahead be given for the ship to enter the port.
“If a ship declares there are symptoms of the coronavirus on board, it will be held outside the Cromarty Firth limits to allow the Highland Council Port Health Officer to make their assessment of the situation and quarantine the ship if necessary. Quarantined ships will be the responsibility of the Highland Council Port Health Authority, NHS Highland, Health Protection Scotland and Scottish Government.”
Cromarty Firth councillor Carolyn Wilson confirmed she had been approached by concerned locals and admitted she herself had cancelled a planned cruise to Italy because of her husband's low immune system. She said: "I share people's concerns. I go on cruises and it is a confined space. We need to be sure all the agencies talk to each other. I share people's concerns."
Economic consultant Tony Mackay said: "I believe it is inevitable that some cruise liner visits to Invergordon will be cancelled and that the numbers of passengers on others will be reduced significantly. The experience with the cruise liner in Japan is a clear indication of the likely problems.That will have a serious impact on the local economy, not just in Invergordon but also elsewhere where the visitors go. The cruise liner business has been a great success for the port of Invergordon. However, other local industries such as oil and gas have struggled recently and the short term prospects for the local economy are poor."