Expert panel submits recommendations for safe return to cruising

Written by Nick Blenkey
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A panel of medical experts formed in June by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has submitted recommendations to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that could see a return of cruise operations.

The medical experts—the Healthy Sail Panel—say that by relentlessly focusing on prevention and other measures, including the testing of guests and crew members public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic can be mitigated in a cruise ship environment.

The Healthy Sail Panel submitted its recommendations in response to a CDC request for public comment that will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.

The panel comprises experts in medical practice and research, public health, infectious diseases, biosecurity, hospitality and maritime operations that have applied the best available public health, science and engineering insights to their recommendations.

The Healthy Sail Panel’s 65-plus-page report includes 74 detailed best practices to protect the public health and safety of guests, crew and the communities where cruise ships call. Recommendations include testing, the use of face coverings, and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals.

The panel is chaired by Gov. Mike Leavitt, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The Healthy Sail Panel spent the last four months studying how to better protect the health and safety of guests and crew aboard cruise ships,” said Dr. Gottlieb. “Taken as a comprehensive approach, we believe the Panel’s robust public health recommendations will help inform strategies for a safe resumption of sailing.”

Leavitt said: “This panel undertook an ambitious, cross-disciplinary, public health examination to develop standards and guidelines that create the highest level of safety in the complex environment of a cruise ship. We studied the industry’s experiences combating the pandemic—and we then incorporated the many lessons learned and advances made by medicine and science over the past six months. The Panel’s recommendations are grounded in the best scientific and medical information available and are intended to meaningfully mitigate public health risks to those who sail.”

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Healthy Sail Panel identified five areas of focus every cruise operator should address to improve health and safety for guests and crew, and reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships:

1) Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction

2) Sanitation and Ventilation

3) Response, Contingency Planning and Execution

4) Destination and Excursion Planning

5) Mitigating Risks for Crew Members

In each category, the Healthy Sail Panel created practical and actionable recommendations to address specific safety concerns. Among the recommendations are key strategies such as:

  • Taking aggressive measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation
  • Reducing transmission via air management strategies and enhanced sanitation practices
  • Implementing detailed plans to address positive infection on board, including contingencies for onboard treatment, isolation and rapid evacuation and repatriation
  • Closely controlling shore excursions
  • Enhanced protection for crew members

“We understand our responsibility to act aggressively to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew, as well as the communities where we sail, and we asked the panel to help us learn how to best live up to that responsibility,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group. “We were inspired by the depth of the panel’s work and their determination to help us establish the strongest protocols in the travel industry.”

“The Healthy Sail Panel’s recommendations are robust and comprehensive, and they reflect the intense focus the panelists brought to their work,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. “We know that both authorities around the globe and consumers expect cruise lines to provide the safest, healthiest vacations we can, and this work demonstrates our commitment to doing just that.”

Fain and Del Rio said each company will use the panel’s recommendations to inform the development of new, detailed operating protocols, which will be submitted to the CDC and other authorities around the globe for review and approval—an important milestone in the process of resuming sailing around the world.

The panel’s work is open sourced for others to incorporate in their protocols as well; Leavitt and Gottlieb expressed appreciation that authorities and other cruise companies had already engaged in the Panel’s work as observers.

Download the full recommendations HERE.

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