The Healthy Sail Panel, comprising prominent medical, hospitality and maritime experts assembled by the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, released a 62-page report that they sent to the CDC today outlining recommendations for the safe resumption of cruising.
"For those who are anxious to get back to sailing, and there are millions who are, this is a very important milestone on that pathway," said the panel's co-chair, Michael Leavitt, a three-term governor of Utah and the secretary of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services for the George W. Bush administration.
The plan, which will be submitted to the CDC, includes many of the protocols already in practice in Europe.
There were few surprises, but collectively, the recommendations suggest that when cruising restarts, it will, for a period, offer a different passenger experience.
Among the recommendations are a requirement of a negative test for Covid-19 for guests and crew "between five days and 24-hours" prior to boarding, once-daily temperature checks, restrictions on shore excursions, CDC-guided requirements for face coverings, social distancing protocols, upgrading air management strategies, the augmentation of onboard medical facilities and setting aside cabins for isolation and quarantine.
The panel approached the challenges with the assumption that "risk
can never be fully eliminated, but with appropriate measures in place,
it can be substantially reduced, and many layers of risk reduction are
needed since each alone is insufficient."
Taking aggressive steps to minimize or prevent the virus from coming
aboard a ship "is the single most important step that can be taken to
reduce risk of an outbreak on board," the panel concluded.
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"Testing is a substantial part of this," Leavitt said, adding that as the technology around testing changes, so will the ways that cruise lines line utilize it.
Insight into how first sailings might look were in the details of the report. "Cruise operators should initially return to service with shorter length trips," it says and, elsewhere in the report, recommends that, in the initial stage, return to service "focus on cruises to cruise line owned-and-operated destinations or tightly controlled ports if their own private destinations are not a reasonable option."
The goal, it states, is to "maintain a healthy 'bubble' within which cruises can operate."
The report suggests that health and safety, while primary, were also informed by impact on guest experience and operational practicality. "Recommendations were made wherever activities could be modified to improve safety without a major impact on the guest experience. In certain areas this was a particularly challenging task... we believe our recommendations strike the appropriate balance between safety and practicality."
Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Group, said that he did not think onboard protocol compliance would be an issue.
"We have a guest conduct policy now, and I know that NCLH has the equivalent, and we're used to people agreeing to abide by those policies and dealing with variations when they occur," he said. "This will be something well-known in advance. That's part of a point [the panel] made: this is a controlled environment. This isn't like a store when someone opts in off the street and opts out again. It's a controlled environment with people who have signed on for a period of time. We don't really have huge problems with compliance, and I don't expect we will here, either."
The full report can be read here.
Many of the recommendations are already in place on cruise ships that have resumed service in Europe, specifically for MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises, which have both launched big ship cruising from Italy.
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Leavitt told Travel Weekly that the report submitted today contains recommendations but that the cruise lines will soon provide a plan to the authorities that will follow the guidelines "almost exactly in the form of commitments made to themselves, to passengers and to regulators."
Since mid-March, the cruise lines have been paused under a No Sail Order by the CDC that forbids operations from U.S. ports. The submission of recommendations for resumption of sailing is required by the CDC.
This report was updated to add comments from Healthy Sail Panel co-chair Michael Leavitt and Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain.
Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.