MSC sets up expert panel to help develop COVID-19 cruise protocol

MSC Cruises has announced the formation of a Blue-Ribbon team to help it develop protocols to resume sailing amid the coronavirus pandemic and says that it expected to commence its restart of cruising operations in the Mediterranean region given the improvement in the health situation there.

“Today I am pleased to announce that the work of our task force is being further supported by the formation and engagement of a Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group for consultation on protocols and planning, as well as bringing additional specialized advice to augment our own existing resources and knowledge,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises, the world’s fourth largest cruise company. 

Vago said the Blue Ribbon group would be composed of experts in the fields of medicine, public Health, and/or related scientific disciplines with the objective being “to create a group of highly qualified and internationally respected experts to inform and review our initiatives as they relate to COVID-19 to help ensure that the actions taken are appropriate, effective and informed by the best available science and health practices.”

Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group for consultation on protocols
Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group for consultation on protocols
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Monitoring COVID-19 impact on cruising as it evolves

The expert panel will have competency to review policy initiatives, technical innovations and operational measures related to COVID-19 and Vago added that it would remain in place long beyond MSC’s return to operations in order to ensure  that the company “benefit from their know-how and input even as the situation continues to evolve and more data become available.”

The panel will include Professor Christakis Hadjichristodoulou, Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Thessaly, Greece; Professor Stephan J. Harbarth, Head of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the Faculty of Medicine, Geneva University Hospitals (HUG); and Doctor Ian Norton, a specialist emergency physician, who was also formerly the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Medical Team Initiative program from 2014 until January 2020.

MSC has also set up an in-house task force expert in medical services, public health, sanitation, ventilation and other shipboard engineering systems, IT and logistics. It has also engaged the global health consultancy Aspen Medical to assist in development of its protocols and procedures.

Bud Darr, MSC Group’s Executive Vice President for Maritime Policy and Government Affairs said MSC had been in continuous consultation with regional, national and local public health authorities including, among others, those in Europe, US, Brazil and China – both directly and through the industry association, CLIA.

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Return to cruising in the Mediterranean first of all? 

Darr said MSC’s focus would be on work with authorities – including those responsible for health, transport and the maritime sector – in countries overlooking the Mediterranean as they are “examining the most recent EU-level and international guidelines and looking to incorporate them as appropriate in their own local requirements.”

“This is in fact the region where, thanks to the improvement in the health situation ashore and return to travel by citizens, we currently expect a potential resumption of cruise operation following the now nearly completed and successful reopening of other travel and leisure activities across the region,” he added. 

Last week, the European Union issued a report outlining the measures cruise lines need to take to resume sailing

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.

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