The companies have asked US Governor Mike Leavitt and Dr Scott Gottlieb to co-chair a newly formed group of experts called the ‘Healthy Sail Panel.’
This panel is tasked with jointly developing recommendations for cruise lines to advance their public health response to COVID-19, improve safety and achieve readiness for the safe resumption of operations.
They have already been working for nearly a month and will offer their initial recommendations by the end of August. The cruise lines said the work will be “open source,” and could be freely adopted by any company or industry that would benefit from the group’s scientific and medical insights.
“This unprecedented disease requires us to develop unprecedented standards in health and safety,” said Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO (pictured). “Bringing on board these respected experts to guide us forward demonstrates our commitment to protecting our guests, our crews and the communities we visit.”
“We compete for the vacationing consumer’s business every day, but we never compete on health and safety standards,” added Frank Del Rio, NCLH’s President and CEO. “While the cruise industry has always had rigorous health standards, the unique challenges posed by COVID-19 provide an opportunity to raise the bar even higher.”
“Health and safety are the highest priority for all CLIA cruise line members as demonstrated by this initiative on the part of two of our largest members. We commend this and parallel efforts of all of our members, large and small, who are working tirelessly to develop appropriate protocols based on input from health authorities and medical experts in the US and abroad,” said Kelly Craighead, President and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Fain and Del Rio said they initiated the panel to assure that the plans they will submit to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulatory bodies apply the best available public health, science and engineering insights. The work of the panel will be shared with the entire industry and regulators.
“In convening the Healthy Sail Panel, we sought the participation of a diverse group of leading experts in areas of science and public health that are directly relevant to the considerations listed by the ‘No Sail Order’,” explained Gov Leavitt. “We view our work as a profoundly important public health effort. The health and safety of passengers, crew and the communities that cruise ships visit will be the principal focus of this project.”
Dr Gottlieb added, “We know that the public health issues that must be addressed are complex, and in some areas, tackling them will require novel approaches. Our goal in assembling this team of leading experts was to develop best practices that can improve safety and provide a roadmap for reducing the risks of COVID-19.”
The panel is co-chaired by Gov Leavitt, former Secretary of the US Department Health and Human Services (HHS), and Dr Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The panel members are:
Gov Mike Leavitt – A three-term Governor of Utah and served as Administrator of the EPA and Secretary of HHS under President George W Bush. He is the founder of Leavitt Partners, which provides investment support, data and analytics, member-based alliances, and direct services to clients to support decision-making strategies in the value economy.
Dr Scott Gottlieb – was the Commissioner of the FDA from 2017-2019 and served as the agency’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs from 2005-2007.
Helene Gayle – is CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, one of the US’ leading community foundations. Prior to this role, for almost a decade, she was president and CEO of CARE, a leading international humanitarian organisation.
Julie Gerberding – is Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer for Merck, leading all aspects of strategic communications, global public policy, population health and patient engagement.
Steven Hinrichs – is Professor and Chair in the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre in Omaha and the Director of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), and Director of the University of Nebraska Centre for Biosecurity.
Michael Osterholm – is one of the US’ foremost experts in public health, infectious disease and biosecurity. He is Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Stephen Ostroff brings years of experience in public health, having served at high-level positions at the FDA and the CDC.
William Rutala has had experience medically managing a variety of diseases and extensive experience studying epidemiology and virology, particularly managing outbreaks and emerging pathogens.
Kate Walsh – is the Dean at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University and EM Statler Professor.
Capt Patrik Dahlgren – is the Senior Vice President of Global Marine Operations and Fleet Optimisation for all Royal Caribbean Group global brands.
Robin Lindsay – is the Executive Vice President of Vessel Operations for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
In addition, several experts will also serve as senior advisors, including Dr Caitlin Rivers, who is a faculty member and epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Dr Phyllis Kozarsky, who is a professor emerita of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and an expert in pre-travel health advice and education, global health, and the epidemiology of travel-related infections and infectious diseases.
RCL told travel agents that the panel will come up with the new protocols that could take the form of enhanced embarkation screening, temperature screenings, testing options for guests and crew, enhanced sanitisation and disinfection protocols, upgraded air filtration, social distancing, reduced occupancy, and changes to dining and other initiatives, plus other recommendations.
While the specifics are still being ironed out, social distancing will be part of the general plan in one of many forms. Initially, both companies expect to reduce the overall guest capacity on board the ships to allow for easier social distancing.
In addition, other forms of social distancing are being explored, including reduced capacity at dining and other public venues, staggered embarkation and check-in and the addition of more options for entertainment, such as additional show times to allow for social distancing.
This will lead to some to question if added protocols, such as masks, social distancing, etc will take away the appeal of a cruise vacation, the blog said.
Answering this point, RCL said that these added regulations would not impact on demand.
“We continue to see consumer demand for the cruise product. We expect to provide the same core guest experience that makes cruising so popular, just in an adapted format. With the gradual reopening of other leisure experiences, consumers are having to adapt to the new normal and cruising will be no different.
“We are confident that our guests are eager to sail again and are counting on us to keep them safe and healthy, a responsibility we take very seriously,” the company said.
In addition, cruise prices will not increase, due to the cost of the work that needs to be done on the ships.
“We do not have plans to increase pricing at this time for enhanced health and safety measures. We expect to provide the same core guest experience that makes cruising so popular,” RCL said. “As new insights emerge, we will continue to evolve protocols and standards as appropriate.”