Winnipeg couple on cruise with confirmed COVID-19 cases says ship did little to stop spread

By | March 20, 2020

A  Winnipeg quarantined couple aboard a Costa cruise ship says the company didn’t inform passengers of potential COVID-19 cases until it was too late to get off, and took days to bring in basic measures to contain the virus.

Allan and Martha Bradbury were aboard the Costa Luminosa, which left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on March 5, just before the federal government warned Canadians to cancel their cruise plans.

“We’d seen lots about the Diamond Princess, but the cruise ship also talked about implementing higher standards in terms of sanitation and cleanliness,” Martha said in an interview with CBC News while quarantined in the couple’s cabin.

“We sort of put our [faith] in Costa, and they certainly indicated that everything was fine,” she said.

The couple initially feared they would end up trapped onboard, but on Thursday night were suddenly told they could disembark in Marseille, France. Along with other fellow Canadians, the Bradburys were put on a charter plane headed to Atlanta. The federal government is still working to get them back on Canadian soil, they said.

The Bradburys’ month-long cruise had several stops in the Caribbean before heading across the Atlantic Ocean, with planned stops in Spain, France and Italy.

But the pair started to realize something was wrong after the ship left Puerto Rico on March 8, bound on a seven-day voyage across the ocean.

“The next morning an American passenger showed me a news article that said that they had taken a woman with fever and respiratory issues … and her husband off the ship in Puerto Rico,” Martha said.

It wasn’t until that night passengers were informed the two people had been removed from the ship with COVID-19 symptoms, she said. By that point, the ship was already headed across the Atlantic.

Costa confirmed to CBC News those two people eventually tested positive.

Allan and Martha Bradbury talk about the moment they realized something was wrong on their cruise. By that point, their ship was already sailing across the Atlantic ocean. 4:41

The Bradburys then learned that a different passenger on the ship’s previous trip had died of COVID-19. He had been taken off the boat just six days before the couple had boarded in Fort Lauderdale.

“We had two opportunities to make our own decision about getting on the ship, had we had all the information,” Martha said.

“We wouldn’t have gotten on in Fort Lauderdale. The second opportunity they had was in Puerto Rico when they took a woman off with COVID-19 symptoms. And they still chose not to share that until well after we were at sea and had no option but to stay on board. They took those decisions out of our hands,” Martha said.

Martha Bradbury took this photo of three passengers being taken of the Costa Luminosa in Tenerife. The company has confirmed a German and Danish passenger were having breathing difficulties, while a third German passenger failed a body temperature check. (Provided/Martha Bradbury)

Buffet, casino, spa stayed open after suspected case: couple

Costa says it immediately stepped up cleaning even before it had the confirmation of COVID-19 on board.

“While awaiting the official test results and in view of the current emergency, sanitation procedures on Costa Luminosa were in any case stepped up to guarantee the highest standards of hygiene and safety for all guests and crew members,” the company said in a statement.

But the Bradburys said it didn’t appear the ship was taking proper measures.

“I think it was maybe two days after we left Puerto Rico, they closed down all the [free] entertainment,” Martha said.

“What they left open were all of the money-making things for Costa,” she said, including the casino, bars, and spa, as passengers still ate buffet together in the same packed dining room.

In an email to CBC News, Costa said health authorities only provided the cruise ship with results on March 13 and 14.

On March 15, the couple said the ship was allowed to make a technical stop in Tenerife that afternoon.

“We watched them take … passengers off the ship in full sterilized gowns, masks, and go to armed police that were fully clothed in protective gear at the bottom of the gangway,” Martha said.

Still, passengers weren’t quarantined until that night, the couple said.

The company said it had not yet confirmed whether the people taken off in Tenerife have tested positive for COVID-19.

Martha and Allan Bradbury as their cruise ship left Puerto Rico. The couple say many seniors aboard the ship didn’t even know something was wrong until everyone was quarantined on March 15. (Provided/Martha Bradbury)

Concerns for seniors on ship

Many of the passengers on board were seniors, and relying on Costa to tell them what was going on, the couple said.

“They’re at the whim of what’s being told to them,” Allan said.

Some of the older passengers didn’t appear to know something was wrong until they were placed in quarantine, the couple said. The Bradburys said it was sometimes more than a day after it was reported in local media that Costa would provide information.

“They’re not young people. They’re the people that are at risk,” Allan said.

“Essentially what they’ve done is make — for some people — life and death decisions,” he said.

In a statement Costa Cruises said it’s suspended all cruises until April 3 and current ships are on their way back.

It also said since the end of January, it’s brought in strict pre-boarding screening procedures for all guests and crew, including medical checks.

The federal government is warning all Canadians to avoid all travel on cruise ships. You can read more of those recommendations here.

Allan and Martha Bradbury worry about the safety of seniors on their cruise, who they say have not been kept up to date about the COVID-19 cases on the ship. 1:29

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