Two and a half months after the cruise industry closed, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the world’s largest cruise companies are almost in agreement on how to limit COVID-19 ship outbreaks while cruises are still banned, the agency told the Miami Herald Monday.
CDC is nearing the end of its review of health and safety plans filed in April by South Florida-based Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages. describe how companies will detect, prevent and mitigate the spread of coronavirus at sea while stopping cruises. The agency plans to publish the plans in the coming week, along with a scorecard for each vessel operating in US waters that reflects its infection level.
Vessels will be classified on a color-coded system: green for no confirmed cases of COVID-1
Based on the designations announced on Tuesday on the CDC website, companies may be required to place crew members in single-family cabins (as most people already do), close all group seats, and cover facial coatings for all crews. All vessels must eliminate self-serving dinners, discourage handshaking, promote hand washing and place hand sanitizer throughout the vessel.
The new data can better illustrate the number of cruise ships affected by COVID-19 outbreaks. An ongoing Miami Herald investigation has confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to 63 vessels, almost a quarter of the global sea cruise fleet.
Outbreaks continue among crew members who remain trapped on ships awaiting return 10 weeks after the industry originally halted cruises as travel restrictions around the world have tightened. Since then, hundreds of crew members have been infected by COVID-19 and at least seven have died from the disease, according to a Miami Herald data analysis.
Cruise companies say they continue to work with the CDC for these plans to prevent outbreaks.
“It is still early in the process and our current focus has been to return our crew to their respective home countries, but we will continue to work closely with CDC, as well as other health authorities and governments, on the requirements and protocols needed to resume the cruise in the future, says Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell. He said the company has repatriated 42,000 crew members, while 38,000 are still awaiting return.
“We are studying the CDC’s latest update. We will continue to work with the CDC and other authorities towards our common goal of bringing our crew home safely, ”said Jonathon Fishman, spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises. He said the company has returned 24,567 crew members, while 19,098 are awaiting return.
A spokesman for MSC Cruises said the company has returned 14,538 crew members, while 4,097 is awaiting re-dispatch and evaluating the new grading system. An MSC ship is on its way to Europe with 1,430 homemade crew members, the company said, noting that some countries will still not allow citizens to return.
Virgin Voyages has repatriated about 400 crew members while about 80 are still waiting to go home, according to a spokesman.
Non-working crew members on Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and some Carnival Corp. subsidiaries including Princess Cruises vessels are not paid. Royal Caribbean provides $ 13 a day to non-working crews, who say they have to pay for on-board toiletries.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Disney Cruise Line and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The seven cruise companies first submitted plans on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 among crew members on April 23 after the CDC’s no-sail order entered into force, and banned cruising in US waters until at least July 24. The plans authorize companies to bring vessels into US waters while the cruise remains banned and require cruise ships to submit medical information to the CDC each week, says CDC’s Director of Division of Global Migration and Quarantine Martin Cetron. Cruise ships are already submitting similar information to the CDC on gastrointestinal diseases at sea as part of the agency’s sanitation program.
“This is a big industry with a lot of players,” Cetron said. “This is an industry that has been under CDC surveillance for many years,” subject to both announced and unauthorized inspections and ship systems.
The CDC oversees US cruises, which represent the bulk of the industry’s operations. Nearly two-thirds of Carnival Corp. vessels are based in North America in 2019, according to financial reports, and revenue from North American cruises accounted for nearly 60% of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. revenue the same year.
Get back to business
The industry hopes to be able to resume cruises – with passengers on them – already this summer. But the plans that are now being finalized do not apply to passenger cruises. Cetron said the CDC has not started reviewing plans for how to safely cruise before developing a vaccine.
“This is the minimum,” Cetron said of plans to mitigate the spread of the virus on ships while stopping the cruise. “If a line ever wants to get back to full density on board and get people on board at risk of dying from COVID, they must be able to control COVID on these vessels when their occupancy is 90% less. It will be this plan for steroids. “
Cetron described the mission of the cruise companies to protect future passengers and crew members from COVID-19 as a “herculean” and compared the risk of infection on cruise ships to meat packaging facilities, care facilities and prisons.
“You scale it to where your population is of global character. These are all the challenges plus being out at sea without access to urgent medical support, ”he said.
On Monday, Norwegian Cruise Line announced its health records for resuming the cruise, including having COVID-19 tests on board, creating a new public health officer position for each vessel, taking passengers’ temperatures before boarding and increasing the frequency of onboard cleaning.
The company’s biggest competitors – Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises and MSC Cruises – have not yet announced health protocols for passenger cruises.
The Miami Herald interviewed five doctors, including three treated COVID-19 patients on cruise ships, about what cruise companies can do to keep passengers and crew safe if companies resume their operations before a vaccine is available. They recommend that cruises operate at 50% capacity, test passengers for COVID-19 before boarding, stop within 500 miles of land and provide vessels with more medical personnel and ventilators, among other things.
An earlier version of this story has incorrectly rendered the number of crew members on Royal Caribbean Cruises that have been returned (24,567) and are awaiting return (19,098).