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WHO Issues Guidelines for COVID-19 Control On Board Vessels

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File image courtesy ITF

By The Maritime Executive 03-04-2020 08:10:00

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released guidelines to avoid or manage an outbreak of coronavirus on board ships. The recently-released guide calls on shipowners to provide crew with guidance so they can recognize signs and symptoms of the virus. If a suspected case is identified, WHO recommends that the ship should start an outbreak management plan on board, even before lab results confirm an infection.

In a review of the new guidance, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) advised crew to keep a distance from sick people and keep interactions brief. If possible, interactions should be limited to a single crew member. 

In the guide, WHO recommends that:

- Crewmembers should wash their hands often and avoid touching their face. Ships should have alcohol-based hand sanitizer readily available for crew use. 

- Seafarers suspected of contracting the virus should immediately be asked to wear a facemask and should be isolated. The ship's master is required to inform the health authorities at the next port of call, and contact tracing should begin immediately. People who were in close contact with a suspected case must be separated from other individuals as soon as possible. 

- Anyone who has shared the same cabin or has had close contact with the infected person in a closed environment - such as cabin stewards, restaurant staff, gym trainers, healthcare workers, people dining at the same table or crew working together - are high risk. They should remain on board the ship in their cabins or be quarantined at a shore facility.

- Crew should wear disposable gloves when in contact with sick people or contaminated areas.

- If a coronavirus test comes back positive, any people who were in close contact with the patient should go into onshore quarantine. The guide provides specific measures for how suspected cases should be transferred for medical care: transport staff must wear a full complement of PPE, including a long-sleeved gown, and must change the entirety between interactions with different patients. 

- Cabins where patients have stayed should be cleaned and disinfected daily. All laundry, food service utensils and waste should be considered infectious and handled accordingly. 

- If the vessel is in port, the port state authorities should decide in consultation with the shipowner whether to end the voyage. 

- Upon leaving the ship, all passengers and crew who are not considered high risk should provide their contact details to the vessel in case a coronavirus case is diagnosed later on. The contact information should be retained for 30 days. 

- WHO advises that a ship that has experienced a coronavirus case should be sanitized and should change its crew before sailing.