On Monday, the cruise industry announced mandatory health and safety changes designed to make it safe to sail during the COVID-19 pandemic – ideally with a phased-in U.S. start commencing before the end of the year.

Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry’s leading trade organization, and its members, who carry 95% of the world’s oceangoing cruisers, announced a mandatory “Core Elements of Health Protocols,” that includes crew and passenger testing, mask wearing, enhanced cruise ship ventilation, stringent response procedures and shore excursion protocols.

The new protocols will apply to all CLIA member ships impacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current no-sail order, which bans cruising in U.S. waters until at least Oct. 1 for vessels that can carry 250 or more passengers. CLIA, which voluntarily suspended sailing in the U.S. until Nov. 1, is requiring each cruise company’s CEO to provide written verification that the elements are being applied to their individual fleets, according to a release shared by Bari Golin-Blaugrund, vice president of strategic communications and public affairs for CLIA.

“(We have done) tremendous learning about the virus over these months,” Adam Goldstein, global chair of CLIA, said at a virtual press conference.

The cruise industry was at the eye of the pandemic’s storm as the COVID-19 began to snake its way into communities across the globe. The world’s attention turned to cruises when an outbreak infected more than 700 people and killed several on Carnival Corp. line Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess. And it wasn’t the only ship that faced an outbreak. Vessels across many lines found themselves within the virus’ clutches in February and March, eventually prompting the industry to halt operations altogether. And outbreaks continued to follow even after that. Between March 1 and July 10, the CDC found 99 outbreaks across 123 ships.

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Over time though and with the help of experts, the industry now finds itself in a position to resume sailing. “We are in a position to announce mandatory core elements of health protocols that we see as a path (to resuming cruising),” Goldstein continued.

Brian Salerno, vice president of maritime policy at CLIA, called the elements “essential building blocks” for the resumption of cruising. “And they are intended to be adjusted over time,” he said.

CLIA worked with lines citing recommendations from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s “Healthy Sail Panel,” Carnival Corp.’s independent experts and from MSC’s Blue Ribbon group. They also examined sailings that proved safe with new rules enforced on board in Europe on lines including MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Seadream, Ponant, and TUI, among others. 

“Based on what we are seeing in Europe, and following months of collaboration with leading public health experts, scientists, and governments, we are confident that these measures will provide a pathway for the return of limited sailings from the U.S. before the end of this year,” Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA, said in the overview.

CLIA has broken four key areas down with specific requirements for each.

1. Embarkation and testing

As a part of CLIA’s new protocols, passenger and crew testing is priority in the boarding process as part of a layered screening strategy. 

Crew testing: 100% of crew members are to be tested before leaving home, before embarkation and after a minimum 7-day quarantine before beginning duties. They are also to be tested at least once monthly thereafter.

Passenger testing: 100% of passengers are to be tested ahead of embarkation and subsequently rescreened prior to boarding.

2. Onboard procedures

Masks: Required for all passengers and crew members on ships and during excursions when physical distancing cannot be upheld; masks are also mandatory for crew when working around food and beverages,

Physical distancing: Is to be maintained in accordance with health authorities’ distancing guidelines during embarkation, on excursions, private islands and on board. 

Ventilation: Ships are to implement air management plans to decrease risk of spread by increasing fresh air flow and using enhanced filters and other technology.

3. Medical and public health response

To improve health-related responses on ships, cruise lines will follow certain steps if a COVID-19 case emerges.

Enhanced communication and reporting of illness on board.

Remote health evaluations and, if necessary, isolation in pre-designated cabins when needed.

“Risk-based” response plans and medical disembarkation protocol, including pre-made arrangements with ports partners and destinations.

Testing and screening for passengers and crew who may have been in contact with the ill party.

4. Shore excursions

Any shore excursions are to meet cruise lines’ strict protocols. Passengers who do not comply with those rules on excursions will not be allowed to reboard, which MSC did in Europe when a family broke protocol. 

All of the core element protocols are subject to change as technology and knowledge of COVID-19 continue to evolve.

“What we have seen is that when procedures are in place and they are rigorously followed, the risk is minimized,” Christos Hadjichristodoulou, professor of hygiene and epidemiology at Greece’s University of Thessaly said in the release, noting he was satisfied and impressed with the industry’s approach to planning for cruising’s resumption. 

“The core elements of the approach developed by the cruise industry, which adopt scientific evidence-based EU guidelines for COVID-19, go further than I have seen in almost any other industry,” Hadjichristodoulou continued.

CLIA’s announcement of the elemental implementation coincides with the close of the CDC’s request for public comment. The industry group plans to submit its protocols along with answers to all of the CDC’s 28 questions regarding the resumption of cruising, according to Golin-Blaugrund.

The CDC’s comment period, which has received upwards of 10,000 comments thus far, ends Monday, and its current “no-sail” order is set to expire at the end of the month. 

Tests, masks, temperature checks: ‘Healthy Sail Panel’ submits 74 COVID-19 cruise recommendations to CDC

Six months into pandemic pause: Carnival cancels more cruises into spring 2021

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cruise COVID-19 precautions: Industry mandates testing, masks, more



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