Health professionals warn against total removal of COVID protocols on cruise ships

Mahahual, Mexico - January 6, 2022: Two armed marines stand on the dock at the Costa Maya cruise port in Mahahual. Behind the is the MSC Meraviglia.

Leading experts in infectious diseases have warned the cruise industry could be loosening its COVID protocols too quickly.

Who will ever forget the days in early 2020 when the cruise industry was causing chaos in Australia?

At one stage, one in eight COVID cases in Australia was linked to a cruise ship that docked in Sydney’s Circular Quay, many thought the days of cruising were over.

While the industry has largely bounced back, some health experts are warning that cruise companies may be relaxing their COVID protocols a little too fast.

“Even if symptom screening still occurs, reducing active screening potentially increases the risk of seeding events right from the start of a voyage if people without symptoms but are infectious are allowed to board, which in turn could lead to multiple outbreaks early in a voyage, and more cases overall,” chair in epidemiology, Deakin University, Professor Catherine Bennett, told Cruise Passenger.  

Doctor Paul Griffin, Director of Infectious Diseases at Mater Hospital also expresses concern about increased transmission but sees the need to balance risks with the reality of coexisting with the virus.

According to Dr. Paul Griffin, director of infectious diseases, Mater Hospital, ships are still high risk environments.

“Potentially, less carrying out of COVID safe practices could increase transmission, but we find ourselves in a challenging period where we have to learn to live with the virus, but also continue to make risk assessments and not become complacent,” Griffin, told Cruise Passenger. 

“Ships are still a high-risk environment, similar to aged care centres or hospitals, it’s probably best to gradually phase protocols out, rather than remove them all at once.”

“We are definitely in an evolution towards personal responsibility, although in the cruise industry at this point, there still has to be a degree of responsibility for staff to keep crew and cruisers safe.

“We are not too far away from it being totally up to the individual, however, for now, measures to minimise outbreaks are still necessary.”

“The direct link between immunity and reduced risk of severe disease remains critical onboard where ships can be several days from port and not have the expertise or equipment to support critically ill COVID-19 patients.”

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