The European Union has released a 49-page guide for cruise ships resuming operations following the COVID-19 pandemic.
It covers several measures that seek to reduce the risk for introduction of COVID-19 onto the ship, transmission during a voyage, embarkation and disembarkation, and also provides options for preparedness to respond to potential cases among crew and guests.
According to Royal Caribbean in a blog, these measures look at what policies are being proposed by health organisations.
The EU also recommends cruise lines to take a ‘gradual approach’ to resuming sailings.
Specifically, it recommends sailings of between three to seven nights in duration, and the limiting of port visits in the itinerary.
In addition, each country to be visited on a cruise should be evaluated for their capacity to accept possible or confirmed COVID-19 cases from ships.
In order to make social distancing rules effective, the EU advised the reduction the number of guests and crew on board.
By limiting the amount of people on board this allows measures related to physical distancing on board ships can be maintained, and that temporary isolation and quarantine of passengers and crew can take place individually in cabins, the EU said.
Physical distancing of at least 1.5 m should be maintained at waiting areas and during boarding at transport stations, by using special markings and adopting controlled entry measures.
A number of hygiene measures were also recommended to be employed on board: hand washing with soap and water or hand hygiene with alcohol based hand rub solution (containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol), respiratory (coughing and sneezing) etiquette, disposal of used tissues, physical distancing (including the elimination of handshaking), use of face masks, avoiding touching the nose, eyes and mouth without previously washing hands, etc.
The use of masks appears many times in the wide ranging document, and it encompasses using masks while on board.
When physical distancing cannot be maintained, the use of face masks should be required. Crew members are recommended to practice physical distancing and wear face masks.
If a guest does not arrive with his or her own face mask, masks should be made available for passengers at the terminal.
The document also recommends wearing masks in the following areas:
- Interacting with other guests when closer than 1.5 m apart.
- On buses.
- Walking/passing in narrow corridors on board.
- Excursions (countries that have rules about requiring them).
- Visiting the medical facility on board.
As for indoor swimming pools, they are not recommended, but these pools that are able to be converted to outdoor pools – by lifting/removing roofs or walls – could be allowed.
Bathers should be strongly advised to shower before using the pools. The cruise ship should also provide all necessary items for showering (eg, soap, shower gel, etc).
Sunbeds, chairs and lounge chairs should be positioned so that they are at least 1.5 m apart from each other.
In addition, the maximum number of guests in a pool should be limited, including those in hot tubs.
Every cruise ship operating in Europe must have a ship contingency plan/outbreak management plan, the EU said. This plan should include:
- Monitoring of epidemiological situation, rules and restrictions worldwide.
- Written contingency plan/outbreak management plan for COVID-19.
- Arrangements for medical treatment and ambulance services.
- Arrangements for repatriation.
- Arrangements for quarantine of close contacts.
- Arrangements for isolation of asymptomatic/pre-symptomatic travellers.
- Adequate testing capacity.
- Crew training.
- Immediate reporting to the next port of call of any possible case.
- Estimation of maximum number of passengers and crew on board cruise ships.
- Focused inspection on COVID-19 prevention and control for resuming cruise ship voyages by EU ‘Healthy Gateways’.
Not surprisingly, Royal Caribbean said that there were recommendations to prevent anyone who may be at a higher risk of having contracted COVID-19 from embarking on a cruise ship.
Any person experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19, or if identified, anyone who has been in contact during the last 14 days with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or anyone who is tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR should not be accepted on board cruise ships.
Guests in high risk groups, including people over 65 years of age or people of any age with underlying medical conditions (chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases and immunocompromised individuals), should be advised to visit a doctor for pre-travel medical consultation to assess if they are fit to travel.
Activities and services on board ships could be organised according to age group, so that older individuals are separated from other age groups.
In addition to a number of protocols recommended for keeping the ship clean, the EU recommends that only designated crew members be allowed to serve food. Crew serving food should wear face masks and disposable gloves.
Under no circumstances should crew or guests who will be served food use any commonly shared utensils or other items. These should be removed from the service so that only a designated crew member can distribute them.
Self-service of dispensed items, plates, cutlery, utensils by passengers or crew should not be allowed. Food handlers should serve any dispensed items – eg, water, coffee, juice, etc).
Room service is recommended in order to avoid overcrowding in restaurants and other food service areas.