Carnival Cruise execs knew they had a virus problem, but kept the party going

Carnival’s ships have become a floating testament to the viciousness of the new coronavirus and raised questions about corporate negligence and fleet safety. President and Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald says his company’s response was reasonable under the circumstances. “This is a generational global event—it’s unprecedented,” he says. “Nothing’s perfect, OK? They will say, ‘Wow, these things Carnival did great. These things, 20/20 hindsight, they could’ve done better.’ ”

Donald says that if his company failed to prepare for the pandemic, it failed in the same way that many national and local governments failed, and should be judged accordingly. “Each ship is a mini-city,” he says, and Carnival’s response shouldn’t be condemned before “analyzing what New York did to deal with the crisis, what the vice president’s task force did, what the Italians, Chinese, South Koreans, and Japanese did. We’re a small part of the real story. We’re being pulled along by it.”

In the view of the CDC, however, Carnival helped fuel the crisis. “Maybe that excuse flies after the Diamond Princess, or maybe after the Grand Princess,” says Cindy Friedman, the experienced epidemiologist who leads the CDC’s cruise ship task force. “I have a hard time believing they’re just a victim of happenstance.” While it would have been tough to get everyone aboard the ships back to their home ports without infecting more people, Friedman says several of the plagued Carnival ships didn’t even begin their voyages until well after the company knew it was risky to do so. She says its actions created a “huge strain” on the country. “Nobody should be going on cruise ships during this pandemic, full stop,” she says.

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