MSC Cruises has revealed full details of its COVID-19 health and safety protocols as it seeks to restart cruising in the Mediterranean.
Speaking Monday, August 3, at a press conference in Italy, CEO Gianni Onorato said MSC Cruises has been working closely with the different authorities in the countries where the MSC ships will call to develop a comprehensive protocol to protect passenger and crew health and safety, as well as that of local communities visited by cruise ships. Onorato said MSC’s operating procedures go beyond regional and national guidelines, adding that RINA, the independent maritime certification corporation, has verified that the protocol meets the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) guidance, which incorporates additional health standards including those from the EU Healthy Gateways.
The new procedures include universal COVID-19 testing for all guests and crew prior to embarkation, reduced capacity and social distancing, and ashore visits only with an MSC Cruises excursion
MSC Cruises restarting with Mediterranean itineraries
MSC said it is preparing two ships – the MSC Grandiosa and the MSC Magnifica – for a potential restart this summer in the Mediterranean while awaiting the necessary final regulatory approvals.
The flagship MSC Grandiosa will offer 7-night cruises in the western Mediterranean and MSC Magnifica will sail the east Mediterranean. MSC said actual departure dates would be determined in accordance with the guidelines received by relevant authorities in countries where the ships would call. A statement added that planned itineraries include Greece and Malta where authorities have re-opened ports to cruise ships and that the authorities in those countries have already approved MSC’s health and safety protocols.
As yet the cruises will not be available to North American customers as MSC said that in the initial phase of the restart of operations, cruises aboard the MSC Grandiosa and the MSC Magnifica would only welcome guests who are residents in the 26-member European Schengen free travel zone.
Universal health screening and ongoing health monitoring
The MSC health and safety protocols include
- Universal health screening of guests prior to embarkation that comprises three comprehensive steps –, a temperature check, a health questionnaire and a COVID-19 swab test. Depending on the screening results and according to the guest’s medical or travel history, a secondary health screening or testing will take place. Any guest who tests positive displays symptoms or a temperature will be denied boarding. Following guidelines from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, guests traveling from countries categorized as high risk will be required to take a molecular RT-PCR test, to be done within 72 hours prior to joining the ship. All crew members will be tested for COVID-19 prior to embarkation as well as regularly during their contract;
- Elevated sanitation and cleaning measures supported by the introduction of new cleaning methods, the use of hospital-grade disinfectant products and the sanitation of the air on board with UV-C light technology that kills 99.97% of microbes;
- Social distancing will be enabled through the reduction of the overall capacity of guests on board, allowing for more space for guests, approx. 10m² per person based on 70 percent overall capacity. Venue capacity will be reduced, activities will be modified to allow for smaller groups and guests should pre-book services and activities to manage guest numbers. When social distancing is not possible, guests will be asked to wear a face mask, for instance in the lifts. The face masks will be provided daily to guests in the cabin and will be available around the ship;
- Enhanced medical facilities and services with qualified staff, equipment required to test, evaluate and treat suspected COVID-19 patients and free treatment at the onboard medical center for any guest with symptoms. Dedicated isolation cabins will be available to enable isolation of any suspected cases and close contacts;
- Ongoing health monitoring will be conducted throughout the cruise. Guests and crew will have their temperature checked daily either when they return from ashore or at dedicated stations around the ship to monitor the health status of every guest and crew member.
- Guests will only go ashore as part of an organized MSC excursion. Tour guides and drivers will also undergo health screening and will wear appropriate PPE;
- A contingency response plan will be activated if a suspected case is identified, in close cooperation with the national health authorities. The suspected case and close contacts will follow isolation measures and may be disembarked according to local and national regulations.
MSC Cruises blue-ribbon COVID-19 expert panel included:
- Professor Christakis Hadjichristodoulou, Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Faculty of Medicine as well as its Vice-President, School of Health Sciences, University of Thessaly, Greece;
- Professor Stephan J. Harbarth, Hospital Epidemiologist, Infectious Diseases Specialist and Head of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) and Faculty of Medicine;
- Doctor Ian Norton, a Specialist Emergency Physician with post-graduate qualifications in Surgery, International Health and Tropical Medicine, currently managing director of Respond Global, formerly the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Medical Team Initiative program until January 2020.