Cruise Passengers Test Positive for COVID-19 in Caribbean and Italy
The restart of cruise operations continues to be challenged by COVID-19 despite efforts to create a bubble environment aboard the ships. This week, two cruise ships operating in different parts of the world both reported passengers that tested positive for the virus despite a range of precautions enacted by the cruise lines. However, unlike 2020 when the outbreaks were widespread, the cruise lines’ protocols appear to be working.
Royal Caribbean Group’s Celebrity Cruises confirmed reports that two passengers sharing a cabin aboard the line’s Celebrity Millennium tested positive yesterday as part of routine tests and were placed in isolation. Both passengers are reported to be asymptomatic and under the supervision of the expanded medical team aboard the cruise ship during the last scheduled day of the week-long cruise
The Celebrity Millennium was five days into its much-celebrated return to service highlighted as the first large cruise ship to resume sailing in the western hemisphere and be offered for sale to American travelers. The cruise ship began its first cruise from St. Maarten in the Caribbean on June 5 carrying a reduced capacity of just 600 passengers and an additional 600 in crew.
The protocols established by Celebrity Cruises for the return to service included the requirement that all crew and passengers be fully vaccinated against the virus. In addition, passengers had been required to take a COVID-19 test within 72-hours of their departure from St. Maarten as well as tests before going ashore. Aboard the ship, passengers were not being required to wear face covers or maintain social distances, but crew members were wearing face coverings when interacting with passengers. From the details released, it is unclear if the positive tests are thought to be breakthrough cases of the virus, which rarely occurs among vaccinated individuals, or if this is an instance of inaccurate tests.
Celebrity Cruises reports that contact tracing and testing are in place for any close contacts for the two passengers. Further, all passengers are going to be required to take an antigen test before tomorrow’s scheduled disembarkation in St. Maarten.
Earlier in the week, MSC Cruises also confirmed that two passengers sailing in the Mediterranean aboard the line’s MSC Seaside had tested positive for the virus also during routine tests during the cruise. MSC reported that the passengers, who were not traveling together, along with the traveling companions, were isolated aboard the ship and disembarked at the next port of call in Sicily. MSC Cruises, unlike Celebrity Cruises, is not requiring all passengers to be vaccinated but is conducting testing prior to boarding the ship and mid-week during the cruise. Again, in this instance, the protocols identified the passengers and reduced the risk of transmission on the ship.
The cruise industry is continuing to move forward with additional sailings with more ships scheduled to resume cruising in the coming weeks. Industry executives point to the availability of vaccinations and the fact that science has learned so much more about controlling the virus in the past year. They believe their protocols are effective and said they are prepared to revise procedures if required.
In Singapore, where two cruise ships continued to sail during the recently increased restrictions, the government has announced plans to begin to reduce the limitations on the cruise ships. The cruise lines will be permitted to increase the number of passengers onboard to a maximum of 50 percent of capacity and later in the month they will be permitted to reopening the restaurants for meal service. Singapore has been limiting meals to take out food and meals in cabins similar to restrictions imposed in the city.
Cruise lines operating from U.S. ports, including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises, each announced this week additional restart dates for sailing from ports in Florida, Texas, California, and New York, in addition to the plans for Alaska cruises from Seattle. However, the situation regarding requiring passengers to provide proof of vaccination remains unresolved in Florida and Texas, where the states have banned businesses from requiring vaccine passports. The cruise lines are hoping to find an agreement between the states and the CDC, while at the same time the federal judge hearing Florida’s lawsuit said he would issue a ruling soon on the motion for an injunction to end the CDC’s restrictions on cruising.