When it comes to the health crisis, cruising has perhaps been the hardest hit industry in the world. From outbreaks on ships at the start of the pandemic, to orders from the CDC halting sailings, to a seemingly endless “limbo” regarding a return to the United States, cruising has been in a state of turmoil for more than a year.
(See our timeline of the pandemic’s impact on cruising here.)
But the industry isn’t taking the pandemic laying down. In the year since cruising halted, lines have worked to meet the challenge of sailing in this new environment.
That includes new protocols from the Healthy Sail Panel (a joint effort from Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.), as well as working with health authorities around the world to determine how to sail and keep passengers safe.
As Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Group has repeatedly said, he wants passengers to be safer on a cruise ship than they would in their own home town. And on that front, he recently shared some interesting numbers.
Just 10 Cases (100,000+ Passengers Sailed)
Many people may not realize it, but cruising has returned in some parts of the world, including Asia and Europe. The industry also has plans to open up more departures, including Royal Caribbean sailing “fully vaccinated” cruises in Israel and The Bahamas.
But even before those cruises with vaccines required actually set sail, Royal Caribbean Group has already sailed with over 100,000 guests on over 150 cruises, according to Fain.
Of those 100,000-plus passengers, he says there have only been 10 people who tested positive for COVID.
“We’ve only had 10 people test positive for the COVID virus,” Fain shared in a video. “Ten. And all of them have been handled smoothly, and without undue disruption of other guest cruises. And without undue burden on the communities and governments involved.”
“Our experience with these 100,000 guests is a very powerful proof of concept. In essence, we’ve just had 100,000 test cruisers and demonstrated that the process works.”
If the number of cases sounds low, that’s because it is. Ten cases compared to 100,000 guests comes out to just a 0.01% infection rate.
Vaccines Could Make Sailing Even Safer
In the same video, Fain shared that the industry as a whole has had more than 350,000 passengers since new protocols were put in place, with few cases. He also went on to explain that these results are from before vaccines were widely available.
“Everyone knows that the vaccines are a game-changer. They work beautifully, and I’ve called them the ‘ultimate weapon,’” Fain said.
“But they are not the only protection we have, as our experience proves. Enhanced testing has gotten so good that it too transforms the discussion. And contact tracing capabilities on board ships have gotten so much better than anything available on land. The result of all this is a dramatic change in the landscape.”
And with the wider introduction of vaccines and the new announcements regarding cruises from Israel, The Bahamas, and elsewhere, Fain went so far as to say “I expect that we will soon be announcing more such itineraries.”
Royal Caribbean Group CEO on a Return to Sailing, CDC Orders, and More
Through the rest of the video, the CEO offered an update on other questions he has heard frequently.
On if vaccines will be required to cruise…“The answer to that is ‘We don’t know.’ We have announced three cruises that will require inoculations for all adults, and there are likely to be more. But each circumstance is different, and I would note that the cruises we are currently operating are operating without requiring vaccines.
On the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order…“When the conditional sail order was written, there were no vaccines. The disease was on an upward trajectory and headed toward a terrible peak. Testing was less available and more costly, and therapeutics were limited. In general, the situation looked very bleak back then.”
“What a difference five months makes. Today the vaccines and other measures have changed the trajectory from a steep climb to a dramatic fall. The pandemic isn’t under control, but it is getting there. And society is beginning to open up.”
“Last October, preparing for resumption of service based on extensive protocols made good sense. But today, a vaccine approach makes more sense than this old protocol based approach.”
“We don’t know what the CDC is contemplating to address this very different set of circumstances. But just as they and other public health officials are doing elsewhere, we expect they will all adjust to the changes that have been and are taking place today. The Conditional Sail Order was a very positive step at the time, but that time has passed.”
On a return to sailing from the United States…“It takes months to reactivate a ship so we’re not talking about restarting in the U.S. right away anyhow. But the advances in science and medical knowledge are extraordinary, and we believe that with them we can prudently and safely plan now for our summer sailings. And we’d like to do so.”
“One thing that can mess this up is if we, as a society, get complacent. Masks work. Vaccines work. If we let our guard down and stop taking simple precautions, we could cause another spike. That would really make me cry.”
“So I therefore encourage all of you to get your vaccine, follow the CDC’s advice, and we can be sailing in time to meet President Biden’s goal of re-opening society in time for the Fourth of July. That would make it an especially memorable Independence Day.”
You can see the entire video below:
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