Cruising provides an isolated environment with tight control and may potentially be one of the safest ways to travel in the COVID-19 era. That is the view of Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, and a co-chair of a recently appointed joint advisory panel of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Controlling the COVID bubble
Cruise ships, Gottlieb said, offer “exquisite control over the environment” and the ability to regulate “who gets into the protective bubble, and what you are doing in the bubble.”
“We’re trying to come up with a set of measures that can be adaptable in a high prevalence environment as well as the future lower prevalence environment where [the virus] will continue to be a threat but, hopefully, a much lower threat.”
Gottlieb was named earlier this week as co-chair of the Healthy-Sail Panel along with former US Secretary of Health Mike Leavitt.
The panel is tasked with collaboratively developing recommendations for cruise lines to advance their public health response to COVID-19, improve safety, and achieve readiness for the safe resumption of operations.
The panel’s members are globally recognized experts from various disciplines, including public health, infectious disease, biosecurity, hospitality and maritime operations.
The expert panel has been working for nearly a month and will offer its initial recommendations by the end of August. The cruise lines said its work will be “open source,” and could be freely adopted by any company or industry that would benefit from the group’s scientific and medical insights.
Isolation can be an advantage
Leavitt also discussed the challenges and advantages of isolated cruise ship environments when he spoke Monday with Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain.
“Reality is, it’s probably a lot easier because it’s isolated,” he said. “I look at what’s happening with the NBA right now where they’ve consolidated all the games in one place where they could essentially create an isolation. That’s where they could conduct their business in a more controlled way. Well, it’s become evident to me that the isolation can be seen not as a disadvantage, but as a great advantage. And one of the ways in which we will adapt will be to utilize that as an asset as opposed to seeing it as simply a liability.”
What resumption of cruising could look like | Cruising be among the safest ways to travel
Clues as to what kind of measures could be adopted when the CDC eventually lifts its no-sail order – currently in place until July 24 – can be found in a document issued last week by the European Union.
Titled “Interim Advice for Restarting Cruise Ship Operations,” the June 30 document, published by EU Healthy Gateways, sets out extensive guidance for the operation of cruise ships once all restrictive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted.
The guidance provides a list of measures to reduce the risk for introduction of COVID-19 onto the ship, transmission during cruise ship voyage, embarkation and disembarkation, and further provides options for preparedness to respond to potential COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew.
One ocean cruise line that has already launched operations is the Norwegian expedition cruise line Hurtigruten which became the first ocean cruise liner to resume sailing in June and today announced plans to bring back 14 of its 16 ships. The practices adopted by Hurtigruten can also shed some light on what a resumption of cruising might look like.
In line with the Norwegian regulations, all passengers have their temperature screened before embarkation and must fill out a declaration form stating they have not been in contact with anyone who has had COVID-19 in the last 10 days. Several cabins are reserved for quarantine in the event that any of the guests develops COVID-19 symptoms. Passengers will be regularly reminded to keep 1-meter distance from others and to maintain hand hygiene.
All purchases are via touch-free card after passengers open a cruise account. A dedicated Health and Safety Officer is on board, to coordinate and ensure the quality of infection control.