Recent days have seen Ruby Princess dock in San Francisco with a dozen Covid cases aboard, ships denied docking in the Caribbean because of Covid outbreaks, and the US national public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tell Americans to avoid all travel on cruise ships, regardless of their own vaccination status.
The New York Times ran a story a few days ago headlined “Cruise Ships Are Still Sailing as Cases Rise and Criticism Mounts”.
The paper reported growing concerns over the safety of cruising and criticism of cruise line protocols in reporting cases to passengers, adding that “ships keep sailing and guests keep embarking, adamant that the onboard environment is safe because of stringent health and safety requirements, including pre-departure testing and vaccine mandates”.
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line cancelled several voyages because of the growing number of coronavirus cases aboard some of their ships, the paper said.
The CDC said flatly: “Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status. Even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants.”
The cruise industry’s trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, called the CDC’s warning “perplexing,” and said that cases identified on ships “consistently make up a slim minority of the total population on board – few fewer than on land.”
“No setting can be immune from this virus – however, it is also the case that cruises provide one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus,” the group said in a statement.
The New York Times said some passengers were starting to question the effectiveness of health and safety protocols, quoting one passenger who was surprised by the number of people he met aboard who said they had been exempted from the vaccine mandate.
The emergence of a more contagious Omicron variant has altered the situation.
USA Today reported that Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess, the ship at the centre of a Covid outbreak in New South Wales in 2020, docked in San Francisco last week “with a dozen Covid cases discovered among passengers” after 25% of the passenger population was randomly tested for the disease.
In the NSW outbreak, the shore authorities were to blame, not the Ruby Princess. An inquiry into the outbreak identified “serious”, “inexcusable” and “inexplicable” mistakes by NSW Health.
Even so, the ship’s name resonates in Australia, probably for the wrong reasons.
From last week, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health began requiring that all ships disembarking passengers at the Port of San Francisco test any passenger who is not fully vaccinated or not boosted before setting foot ashore.
In a blow to cruising throughout the world, the CDC warned Americans to avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status due to concern over Covid-19.
This is what the CDC said, when it strengthened its advisory to the highest level, to reflect “increases in cases onboard cruise ships since the identification of the Omicron variant”.
- Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status.
- Even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
- The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters onboard ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.
- Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.
- If you travel on a cruise ship, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel and get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose if you are eligible.
- People who go on a cruise should get tested 1–3 days before their trip and 3–5 days after their trip, regardless of vaccination status or symptoms.
- Along with testing, passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for a full 5 days after cruise travel.
- People on cruise ships should wear a mask to keep their nose and mouth covered when in shared spaces. While CDC is exercising its enforcement discretion under CDC’s Mask Order to not require that persons wear a mask under certain circumstances onboard foreign-flagged cruise ships subject to the Temporary Extension & Modification of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), including onboard cruise ships choosing to follow the requirements of the CSO on a voluntary basis, individual cruise lines may require travellers (passengers and crew) to wear masks on board the ship.
The full CDC advisory can be read here.
Written by Peter Needham