MSC Cruises is planning to restart operations on Aug. 15, pending Italian government approval. The Mediterranean itineraries will be initially off-limits to American travelers, but the line’s health and safety protocols preview what might eventually be expected in the U.S., as well.
During a press conference, MSC’s CEO Gianni Onorato spoke at length about going “beyond the guidelines” and creating a “safe bubble” for passengers and crew. At a time when a lack of sufficient testing may have contributed to recent outbreaks onboard Hurtigruten and Paul Gauguin Cruises ships, MSC is emphasizing universal COVID-19 screening for all guests and staff.
Based on European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines and a health index of high-risk source countries, select regional guests will be required to take a molecular RT-PCR test within 72 hours of joining the ship. The rest of the passengers will need to have a swab test performed by a fully equipped testing facility at the cruise terminal. On-site testing will be rapid with results available in 30 minutes. Guests will be allowed to check in only after clearing a COVID-19 test, a temperature check and a health questionnaire.
Meanwhile, crew are tested before leaving their homes, prior to embarkation and following five days of quarantine onboard. They will also be tested for the novel coronavirus on a monthly basis during their contracts.
If a passenger tests positive, has a temperature or shows symptoms, he or she will be denied boarding. However, should that happen, the MSC COVID-19 Protection Plan will ensure a full cruise refund. Furthermore, once onboard, guests and crew will be screened for fevers each day.
MSC will also reduce venue capacities by up to 50% and enforce social distancing on the ship and on land. Only when physical distancing is not possible, including during elevator rides, will guests be required to wear masks onboard. Face coverings will always be required during shore excursions, and the only available tour options will be sanctioned by the cruise line to ensure safety off the ship.
Additionally, cleaning onboard ships will be enhanced to hospital-grade levels, and all air will be completely fresh and sanitized with UV-C light. There will be more than 100 hand sanitizing stations strategically placed throughout ships, including at restaurants, where all food delivery will be fully served to start.
The medical facility will be open at all hours, and it will be outfitted with onboard testing machines. Passengers with symptoms will receive free treatment, and 10% of cabins will be set aside for isolation purposes (should it be needed). MSC is also establishing a new Health Protocol Compliance Officer.
Taking technology a step further, the MSC for Me wristband will facilitate proximity and contact tracing, as well as touch-free transactions.
As to when and how these measures may apply to U.S.-based cruising, Onorato said, “I think we are at a different level in terms of the evolution of the pandemic between Europe and the U.S.”
But, he said, learnings from the Europe restart will contribute to U.S.-based resumption.