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Covid-19 update: Cruising into calmer waters


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This winter we've seen the Omicron variant cause unprecedented levels of Covid infection, yet cruises have, for the most part, continued to operate, and in fact have welcomed more than 6 million guests since July 2020, when the first ships began carrying passengers after the global pandemic shutdown.

With such a large Covid surge it's worth looking at how cruise lines have coped, what happens when Covid is on board and how we expect the industry to evolve as we move from pandemic to endemic.

Knowing that no single measure would guarantee guest safety, cruise lines have adopted a multi-layered approach to ensure risk is minimised. Primarily this has meant testing, alongside the various international testing requirements. Rapid tests when boarding and/or proof of a negative test prior to embarkation are now commonplace. This has been combined with changes on board such as enhanced air filtration, a beefed-up cleaning regime, regular temperature taking and so forth. Mask wearing has come and gone, and come back again, in response to local regulations and surges.

Windstar Cruises staff wearing face masks

Identifying cases prior to boarding is key, but with such a high prevalence in the general community, positive cases on board were inevitable. We've seen robust plans activated to deal with this and they've worked extremely well. Numbers have remained far lower on cruises than in other settings, and cruise lines are rightly proud that they've created a safer environment than going to a restaurant, dining with friends or even shopping in the local supermarket.

The swift and effective response when Covid is on board has been to isolate positive cases and close contacts before arranging their disembarkation at an appropriate port where suitable hotel accommodation can be found and homeward travel easily arranged. Guests are asked to isolate for as long as local rules dictate. Hotel and travel arrangements have been taken care of by the cruise lines.

The Omicron surge has meant that in certain instances positive guests had to remain on board, well looked after in dedicated isolation cabins with every effort made to allow time on deck for fresh air. Mundy clients experienced this very situation recently when, on the day of embarkation, they were advised a small number of guests and crew had tested positive. They boarded anyway, had a fab cruise with 'bubbled' excursions and time ashore, and even invited a solo guest released from isolation to dine with them, such was their confidence that the matter had been resolved.

Group dining on a Seabourn cruise

We've seen cruise lines prove they can operate under the most challenging of situations, with high guest satisfaction. For the future, the situation is certain to improve. Some measures are here to stay (vaccine passes, improved air filtration) and some may come and go (bubbles, testing, masks). It is clear from many sold-out cruises that guests have the utmost confidence in the relative safety of travelling on a ship.

As immunity to Covid increases and treatments improve it is certain that its impact will lessen. We're already seeing travel restrictions being dropped, as are the mitigations taken in our daily lives, and despite it being impossible to know what the exact situation will be on every ship, of every line, sailing in every region on any given date, it is clear that disruption will steadily decrease, restrictions lessen, and reliability improve. There may be other waves to ride out, but the water will be less choppy and easier to navigate.

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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