Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Over the course of one week, four cruise ships that were among the first to resume service since the global cruise shutdown had to cut short their sailings after Covid-19 cases were reported onboard.

And while some industry observers took the opportunity to declare that those lines had set sail too soon, Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said during the company's Q2 earnings call last week that while "there is no way to spin the initial re-emergence of Covid onboard vessels," there is "an opportunity to learn from it."

"This virus teaches us something every day," he said. "While it's disappointing, I'm glad the ports and the cruise companies that suffered these setbacks handled it very, very well, and we haven't had a repeat of what happened earlier during the pandemic crisis."

Dr. Jewel Mullen, an associate dean at University of Texas Austin's Dell Medical School, told Travel Weekly last week that incidents like these "is part of what we need to know."

As doctors and scientists discuss the resumption of travel in a Covid-19 world, she said, nobody is suggesting there won't be cases -- it's how we deal with the cases that counts. And observations of cases and protocols in action will help scientists and cruise companies "understand how to continue to refine all of the preventive and protective measures," she said.

This is true in many parts of society that are reopening. When Major League Baseball experienced Covid-19 outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals teams, it didn't cancel the season, but the league did revise its protocols.

What the industry will now be looking at, in the cases of the Paul Gauguin, SeaDream and UnCruise Adventures sailings, is whether the ship protocols worked to prevent onboard transmission and if the subsequent landside quarantine of the guests keeps the virus from spreading into the community.

It is important to also remember that two of the lines that experienced Covid-19 cases on their ships last week, Hurtigruten and SeaDream, have both been sailing since June with no incidents.

"The virus is still out there," Brad Tolkin, co-CEO of World Travel Holdings, told Travel Weekly last week. "As such, the consumer probably expected an outbreak. It would be naive to think that there would not be one."

As the industry does learn more, it may be that cruise lines do decide to wait longer to resume service. Heather Gibson, a professor in the department of Tourism, Hospitality & Event Management at the University of Florida, said recent cases may have taught the industry to slow down.

"Do we need to wait a little longer to be able to get a better handle on this virus?" she asked. "Every day in science they find out something new about it. And that's the part going forward where we're stuck -- we want to get back to normal but at the same time we can't quite yet.

"So maybe the steps that we should take are smaller steps rather than these bigger steps."

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