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Coronavirus: Saga cancels cruises after over-70s told to avoid ships

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Saga's Spirit of Discovery cruise ship. (PA)

Saga has scrapped all its cruises for the next seven weeks because of the coronavirus after the UK government warned older passengers to avoid cruise ships.

The company (SAGA.L) said it would take a profit hit of between £10m ($12.6m) and £15m after it announced the decision to suspend trips until 1 May.

Customers will be contacted and offered a full refund or credit for future trips, Saga said in a statement on Friday. It said cancellations had increased in recent weeks but remained low for upcoming trips in March and April.

“The health and safety of customers and colleagues is our number one priority,” the company said.

Read more: Norwegian says half its staff could face ‘temporary lay-offs’

It sought to reassure investors about its financial prospects despite the “uncertain” travel environment, however.

It said it has “significant available liquidity,” will try to cut costs and does not see the virus significantly impacting the performance of its insurance business.

Other operators have announced similar measures. Carnival-owned Princess Cruises, which had two ships quarantined by the virus, said on Thursday it would cancel all trips for its 18 vessels for the next two months. Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, called it “perhaps the most difficult decision in our history."

In February the company’s Diamond Princess cruise ship had the biggest concentration of confirmed cases outside China at the time, with around 700 people infected and six deaths, according to Reuters.

Carnival (CCL.L) was the second biggest faller on Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) at around 10.40am on Friday, trading 3.6% lower while most of the index leapt. It had slumped 18% on Thursday.

Read more: Stocks sell-off shows every company will feel cost of coronavirus

Richard Branson also announced this week that the first season of his new Virgin Voyages cruise line would be delayed.

It comes after the UK government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all cruise travel for anyone aged 70 and over. Anyone with “high-risk” conditions should do the same, with officials citing advice from Britain’s chief medical officer.

A spokesperson said: “Our first priority is the safety of British nationals. The nature and design of cruise ships – where passengers are contained and the virus can spread faster – makes them a particularly risky environment for vulnerable people.

“We’ve already seen the impact a coronavirus outbreak can have on board a cruise ship, and we have changed this advice with the safety of British nationals in mind.”

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