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Cruise giant Viking is suspending operations around the world, effective immediately.

Citing the growing spread of the new coronavirus, the line late Wednesday said its entire fleet of more than 70 river ships and six ocean ships would stop operating as current sailings come to an end.

All sailings scheduled to start tomorrow through April 30 have been canceled.

“The situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning,” the company’s chairman and founder, Torstein Hagen, said in a letter sent to passengers booked on upcoming sailings.

Hagen said the company would resume operations on May 1.

“Since we started Viking nearly 23 years ago, we have always cared first and foremost about our guests and our employees,” Hagen said. “As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.”

Viking carries about 500,000 travelers a year on its vessels and has 10,000 employees.

Viking is the first cruise line to suspend operations during the outbreak of the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19. The line’s announcement came just two hours after President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Europe, where Viking operates many of its vessels.

President Trump’s announcement could have implications for the near-term future of European cruising. But even before the president’s announcement, the ability of lines to continue on with cruises in Europe was becoming more difficult.

“I am sure you recognize that COVID-19 has made travel exceedingly complicated,” Hagen said in his letter to customers. “An increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships; major attractions such as the Vatican and other museums have been closed; and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.”

Hagen also noted Viking in recent days was facing a situation where a river cruise customer on a Southeast Asia sailing was exposed to COVID-19 while in transit on an international airline. While the passenger is not exhibiting symptoms, she and 28 other passengers on the vessel had to be placed in a quarantine.

The experience contributed to the line’s decision to suspend operations, he suggested.

“This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known,” Hagen said.

Passengers on canceled sailings can choose between a full refund or a credit voucher good toward a future cruise. The credit voucher will be valued at 125% of the amount passengers paid for the canceled sailing and be good for 24 months.

The credit can be used on any Viking river, ocean or expedition cruise.

For additional flexibility, Viking said passengers who are unable to use the credit voucher will automatically get a full refund equal to the original amount paid to Viking after the voucher expires. The vouchers also will be fully transferable.

Hagen added, “We will stand by our guests, employees and partners in these challenging times and hope that they in turn will stand by us.”

Source: THE POINTS GUY

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