Cruising was a Covid disaster. Now it claims to be the safest vacation available

Date Added: June 27, 2021 04:13:02 PM
Author: Sutra Web Directory
Category: Travel & Services: Cruises
The world's cruise ships were once titans of the oceans, raking in billions in profit as their city-sized passenger populations traveled across the globe.
But last year, many of these floating palaces became coronavirus epicenters, turned away from port after port as Covid cases rose on board and the pandemic escalated on land.
First passengers, and then crew members, struggled to get home. By summer 2020, the world's cruise ship fleet was essentially out-of-action. Most vessels were laid up, and some were sold off for scrap as the industry struggled to survive financially.
Now, the first cruise ship carrying fare-paying passengers to depart US shores in over a year has set sail.
The departure of Celebrity Edge, a 1,004-foot ship with a pre-Covid capacity of 2,918 guests, marks a significant step for an industry that has hemorrhaged thousands of jobs and millions of dollars a day during cruising's suspension.
There's a lot riding on cruise ships remaining virus-free, navigating the red tape, restoring their reputation and returning safely to the seas.
Global state of cruising

Celebrity Edge -- owned by Royal Caribbean Group's Celebrity Cruises -- might be the first cruise to depart from the US, but it's not the first vessel to start sailing in the wake of the pandemic.
Cruising's post-outbreak return came in August 2020 when MSC Cruises' flagship Grandiosa departed the Italian port of Genoa for a seven-day Mediterranean voyage with comprehensive health and safety measures in place.
Italian domestic cruises have been operating since then, navigating the choppy waves of the pandemic and the occasional Italian lockdown-enforced pauses along the way.
MSC Cruises is now also operating ships in European destinations including Spain, Croatia and Malta.
In the UK, "staycation" cruises confined to UK waters and ports started in May on board the MSC Virtuosa. Similar UK sailings, including voyages from Disney, P&O and Virgin Voyages -- in its inaugural sailing -- will soon follow suit.
In Singapore, Royal Caribbean "cruises to nowhere" premiered in December 2020, while Celebrity Millennium is currently sailing the Caribbean. In China, Royal Caribbean's Voyage of the Seas is operating domestic journeys.
Martyn Griffiths from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry body that represents the world's major cruise lines, told CNN Travel that 16% of CLIA's ships are back, with that figure expected to rise to 49% by the end of September 2021.
By the end of 2022, Griffiths expects all CLIA members' ships to be operating again.
Health and safety protocol
Cruise companies have implemented multiple on-board health and safety requirements to avoid a repeat of spring 2020.
Restrictions vary country-to-country and depending on the cruise line, but generally ships are running at reduced capacity -- Celebrity Edge is at 40% right now, for example.
Rapid testing is also in place, face masks are compulsory in many areas on certain sailings and there are increased medical facilities on board. Many cruises also require crew and/or passengers to be fully vaccinated.
In some countries, cruising is still totally off the table. Australia, which has implemented strict border controls throughout the pandemic, continues to enforce a cruise ban, while Canada has a veto in place until February 2022.
Even in the regions where cruising has recommenced, most ships aren't straying too far from their home port. There are no four-month world voyages on the cards right now.
International travel in general is still affected by Covid travel regulations and restrictions, and the cruise industry is no different. The UK's summer staycation sailings, for example, are largely a result of the country's strict restrictions on overseas travel.
Yet even domestic cruises can encounter complications. On a recent UK voyage, passengers on board MSC Virtuosa were prevented from disembarking on a scheduled Scotland stop off, due to regional Covid regulations.
CLIA's Griffiths calls cruise ships "one of the safest vacation environments available today."
"It is testament to the effectiveness of our protocols that we have had over 550,000 passengers sailing so far without any major outbreak of Covid on board," he adds.
So far, cruises haven't proved themselves to be completely immune to Covid, with occasional positive tests emerging among passengers and crew, but these have been quickly contained.
When Covid has been detected on ships in recent months, the industry says it's a sign the system is working.
For example, before the MSC Grandiosa returned to the waters in August 2020, one embarking passenger tested positive at both stages and was subsequently denied boarding, as were his close contacts.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University says it's all about creating layers of safety -- "a series of slices of Swiss cheese" is how he puts it.
"Each one has a barrier, but each one has gaps in it, has little holes. So you put in another one and another one after that, and another one after that. And if you do a whole series of things, then the risk associated with the activity -- in this case cruises -- diminishes."
The various safety measures now on board ships are "good barriers," Schaffner says.
"Each one of them has its own limitations and imperfections. But if you do them all together, then the risk really does go down," he says.
For Schaffner, vaccines are a crucial part of the equation.
"I think the current circumstance where the cruise lines are not able to actually require all of their passengers to be vaccinated is a mistake," he says.
Schaffner is referring to the complicated situation in Florida, where vaccine passport bans have made vaccination requirements murky for cruise lines.
The state of Florida also recently successfully challenged the US government guidelines for cruise ships intending to recommence operations in the country's waters.
Under current regulations issued by the CDC, a cruise ship can depart from an American port if it sails with 95% fully vaccinated crew and 95% fully vaccinated passengers, or alternatively if the vessel has successfully performed a trial cruise under simulated conditions.
For Edge's sailing, only 5% of passengers are unvaccinated, in line with the CDC's guidelines.
Before Edge set sail on Saturday, Celebrity Cruises representative Susan Lomax told CNN that the cruise line is still able to ask Florida-based passengers whether or not they've had their Covid jab -- they just can't mandate that all passengers are fully immunized.
Non-vaccinated guests over 16 will undergo additional testing at their own expense and must wear their masks at all times, except while eating or drinking. There will also be areas on the ship only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers.
~ Via CNN