Cruises in the pandemic: Norwegian fights for restart with vaccinated people

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Cruises in the pandemic
Norwegian is fighting for a restart with vaccinated people

By Diana Dittmer

The US shipping company Norwegian Cruise Line wants to send its fleet back on its way after a corona break of over a year. From July, the ships will not only start in Europe and the Caribbean, but also from US ports. “Annoying” and “unusable” specifications threaten a journey into the unknown in the USA.

The calls to give back their lost freedom to people who want to travel are getting louder everywhere. Even the cruise industry, which has been largely idle since the middle of last year, no longer wants to wait any longer and – taking into account infection protection and vaccination requirements for all involved – finally set sail again. The shipping company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings presented concrete plans this week for resuming cruise shipping this summer.

In addition to departures from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Greece in July, the shipping company is also relying on being able to offer cruises again from July 4th, starting from US ports that are important for the travel industry. A corresponding application has been made to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The way back to normal is more difficult in the USA than anywhere else.

The CDC themselves describe travel for fully vaccinated people as low risk. Accordingly, all trips with Norwegian – as everywhere else – should only take place with fully vaccinated guests and crew members and a universal Covid-19 test before embarkation. “In order to create the safest possible environment, we will require that all guests and crew members are vaccinated against Covid-19,” announced CEO Frank Del Rio. The vaccination must be given two weeks before departure. Since there is still no approved vaccine for children and adolescents worldwide, this also means that children and adolescents are not allowed to travel with them.

In addition to the compulsory vaccination, the capacity utilization of the ships is to be capped at 60 percent. Thereafter, this should be increased by 20 percent every 30 days. According to the information, the infection protection concept comes from a panel of experts that Norwegian commissioned together with competitor Royal Caribbean Group. The shipping company’s concept includes managing and paying for all corona tests for passengers before boarding and disembarking, upgrading the air filter systems and providing a contactless food service on the ship. In total, Norwegian will spend $ 300 million on the health and safety of passengers and other obligations to protect against infection, it said.

“Annoying” and “largely unusable” specifications

The cruise industry, which, like the entire travel industry, has been badly affected by the effects of the Covid-19 virus, urgently needs a fresh start. The Norwegian Cruise Line and other cruise fleets actually wanted to resume operations in April. However, the appointment has been delayed further and further.

In addition to increasing corona numbers, the US authorities in particular are causing problems. Like many other industries, the cruise industry is also struggling with different national requirements. The general ban on cruise ships to dock in the USA expired on October 31, 2020, and there are still no new regulations regulating who can dock when and under what conditions. Without these guidelines, the shipping companies cannot travel from US ports or in US waters. The latest requirements also leave questions unanswered.

It is true that “the passenger operation of cruise ships is carried out in such a way that crew members, passengers and port personnel are protected”. This includes the reporting frequency of Covid-19 cases, which has been increased from weekly to daily, as well as a vaccination recommendation for all dock workers and travelers. But the authority does not formulate a mandatory vaccination. The bottom line is: Because of the “very high” risk posed by the corona mutations, travel on cruise ships is still not recommended.

The trade association for cruise ships, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) will no longer be satisfied with this. The association criticized the specifications were “annoying” and “largely unusable”. He renewed his call to re-allow cruises in July from ports such as Miami, Ford Lauderdale and New York. At the same time, he issued a warning to the authorities: “Without a clear path forward or a time frame for a restart in the US, there will likely be more voyages originating in the Caribbean and elsewhere, closing American ports and thousands of small American businesses.” Singapore, Italy and the UK have re-approved cruises – or at least set a clear target date for them. According to CLIA, almost 400,000 passengers have set sail since last July.

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