CLIA Proposes New Measures to Reduce Coronavirus Risk

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Published Mar 11, 2020 7:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

In an effort to reduce the risk associated with novel coronavirus, the cruise industry's biggest association has proposed new rules that would limit embarkation for vulnerable and elevated-risk passengers. The details have not been published, but accounts leaked to media outline several new measures. 

In a plan submitted to the office of Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has reportedly proposed to deny boarding to any person over the age of 70 unless they present a note from a doctor stating that they are fit to travel on board a cruise ship. Those with an underlying chronic medical condition that would make them more vulnerable to the illness would also be prohibited from embarking.

“In our meeting with him on Saturday, the vice president placed great emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable populations, which include travelers of a certain age and those with chronic health conditions, as specified by the CDC. We believe the plan that we submitted is responsive to those concerns,” a CLIA spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News.

In a news conference Tuesday night, Vice President Pence indicated that the plan also contains provisions for airlift evacuation if the need arises. Two cruise ships have experienced serious onboard coronavirus outbreaks to date, and both have required airplane evacuation services to repatriate passengers or deliver them to other locations for quarantine. 

CLIA chairman Adam Goldstein told Travel Weekly that the plan also calls for cruise ships to carry coronavirus test kits on board, a measure that would accelerate testing in the event of a suspected case. The lab work would still be done on shore, but the vessel's medical staff would be equipped to collect samples on an expedited basis.

The federal government is reviewing CLIA's proposal and is expected to respond soon. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control currently recommends that all travelers "defer all cruise ship travel worldwide," citing the risk of person-to-person spread of COVID-19, but no administrative measures have been taken to impose restrictions on operations.

In the areas where COVID-19 has already hit the hardest - the East Asian and Italian markets - cruise operations have been heavily impacted by public health measures. Norwegian Cruise Line has canceled all Asia summer season cruises through the end of the third quarter, a decision affecting 40 sailings. Royal Caribbean has canceled 18 and Holland America has canceled seven more. Most of the affected vessels have diverted to other regions, allowing them to offer alternate itineraries for passengers who have already booked. 

This week, both MSC and Costa Crociere said that they are winding down cruises in Italy, where a full-scale national shutdown is in progress. The two lines are allowing only disembarkation during Italian port calls to allow passengers to return home. Later MSC and Costa departures from Italy have been canceled through April 3.  

Measures for small passenger vessels

The U.S. industry association for dinner cruise, ferry and tour boat operators, the Passenger Vessel Association, is also emphasizing the importance of health and safety - and the similarity of its members' operations to shoreside options. 

"It is important for the traveling public to understand that most U.S.-flagged passenger vessels are small businesses operating short duration trips of just a few hours," said PVA President Colleen Stephens. "Whether dinner boats, ferries or whale watch vessels, which are U.S.-built and crewed by U.S. citizens, we have much in common with shore-side restaurants and other attractions."

The PVA has called on its members to strictly adhere to CDC guidelines for controlling the spread of illness, including: 

  • Ensuring that employees who are ill or displaying signs of illness (fever, cough) do not come to work.
  • Sanitizing (not merely cleaning) areas of the vessel in which passengers and crew come into contact
  • Mandating that all employees frequently wash their hands according to recommended procedures.
  • Emphasize the utmost levels of cleanliness during food preparation, serving and clean-up.
  • Partnering with agencies and operators that book or sell tours to ensure that any guest identified with possible signs be immediately reported to crew