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Today, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Royal Caribbean Group shared their joint health recommendations as presented to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to safely return to operations.
The overall report of recommendations from the global expert-led Healthy Sail Panel totals more than 65 pages and includes 74 best practices for cruise travel during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to the CDC’s call for public comment.
“The Healthy Sail Panel spent the last four months studying how to better protect the health and safety of guests and crew aboard cruise ships,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, panel chair and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a press release. “Taken as a comprehensive approach, we believe the panel’s robust public health recommendations will help inform strategies for a safe resumption of sailing.”
Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, and Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., indicated that their corporate brands will utilize the detailed recommendations — which are open sourced for other cruise companies to employ — to develop new operating procedures to be further reviewed and approved by the CDC and other international agencies.
The Healthy Sail Panel spent the last four months studying how to better protect the health and safety of guests and crew aboard cruise ships.
The recommendations are broken down into five key categories to ultimately reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 onboard and off cruise ships. These include Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction; Sanitation and Ventilation; Response, Contingency Planning and Execution; Destination and Excursion Planning; and Mitigating Risks for Crew Members.
Delving into some of the specific recommendations for travel advisors to better understand and anticipate on behalf of their clients, strategies encompass preventing COVID-19 from coming aboard, lowering transmission, addressing any positive cases and controlling shore excursions.
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One such recommendation is testing guests between five days and 24 hours before boarding to ensure they are virus-free.
“If rapid, reliable and clinically valid testing options become widely available, the addition of a second test at the pier or immediately before boarding would improve confidence in the testing regimen’s ability to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering the ship,” reads the report.
Once onboard, guests should also have their temperature checked daily and routinely screened for symptoms as a further precaution throughout the cruise. Passengers and crew will also be expected to wear cloth face coverings/face masks in accordance with CDC recommendations.
“Specifically, guests should wear face coverings in any indoor, congregate setting regardless of physical distancing measures, but should not be required to wear face coverings in their own cabins; a notable exception is indoor dining,” reads the report. “Face coverings are not required in outdoor settings as long as physical distancing is feasible. However, if physical distancing is not feasible in certain outdoor settings, masks/face coverings among guests should be required in those locations.”
There is also mention that gaiters or face shields may not qualify according to CDC recommendations and that requirements may be loosened over time.
In order to facilitate appropriate social distancing, the report stipulates capacity reductions, as well: “When returning to sailing, cruise operators should adjust guest and crew load factors in a manner that allows for appropriate physical distancing on board in accordance with applicable guidance, taking into consideration the size and design of each ship.”
Naturally, increased sanitation, ventilation and filtration are also factors in cruise travel’s proposed return to service, not the least of which is guest participation in thorough hand washing — a carryover from the days of norovirus.
Should there be any positive cases of COVID-19 detected onboard, recommendations outline the implementation of contact tracing and enhanced medical facilities, treatment, quarantine and evacuation.
The report also gives an example of a debarkation scenario.
“Cruise operators should define the criteria for small-, moderate-, and large-scale debarkation scenarios in advance of cruising, including a clear decision-making process to guide thinking about when the threshold has been met for each risk level,” reads the report.
Most importantly, given debarkation concerns at the start of the pandemic, the recommendations specify employing third-party providers in order to not overburden local and global government resources.
Lastly as it relates to tours off the ship, the report suggests protocols not unlike those being implemented on current European cruises: “During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit.”
The DetailsRoyal Caribbean Groupwww.royalcaribbeangroup.com
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.www.nclhltd.com