This week, the European Union's Healthy Gateways working group released interim advice for the resumption of cruise ship operations. The guidance is not binding and is subject to change as the pandemic progresses, but it is based on European Commission guidelines for the travel industry.
The group's recommendations are comprehensive, covering everything from voyage planning and infection prevention through public health response measures. They include:
- A gradual overall approach to restarting operations, with shorter voyages of 3-7 days and a limited number of port calls;
- A written outbreak management and contingency plan;
- Prior arrangements with ports of call for medical treatment, ambulance transport, quarantine, air evacuation and other services that might be required in the event of an onboard outbreak;
- Ensuring availability of access to repatriation flights in the event of a partial or complete ship evacuation. This would include at least one port on the itinerary with international flight service allowing passengers and crew to go home - a significant challenge in recent months;
- Pre-approved onshore quarantine arrangements for known close contacts of COVID-positive individuals;
- Shoreside isolation arrangements and facilities for people who test positive but do not have symptoms;
- Adequate testing capacity, either on board or by arrangement with a shoreside lab;
- Pre-departure lab testing for all crewmembers, followed by routine health monitoring and periodic surveillance testing;
- Regular tabletop exercises with cruise ship crews for contingency drills;
- Formal assurances and procedures for informing the next port of call about an onboard outbreak;
- Reducing capacity to allow for social distancing, including an allowance in berthing capacity to isolate individuals in single cabins;
- Reduced face-to-face contact between passengers and staff, including altered arrangements for booking and reception;
- Universal use of face masks in indoor areas by both passengers and crew;
- Continuous ventilation of all occupied spaces;
- Physical distancing of 1.5 meters in most indoor spaces and entertainment venues;
- and limits on the usage of pools and hot tubs, including the closure of indoor pools.
The guidelines recommend preboarding screening measures, but they note that "screening measures may not identify mild symptoms, asymptomatic, incubating travellers or those concealing symptoms," indicating that screening is one tool among many required for a successful reopening.
The full list of recommendations is attached below
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry's largest representative body, said Wednesday that it broadly supports the interim guidelines. "The primary concern of CLIA and its member lines is the health and safety of its passengers and crew," said CLIA Europe secretary-general Tom Boardley in a statement. "This guidance from the public health authorities in Europe provides a useful resource for cruise lines as they prepare to resume operations.”
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Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.