A day after announcing Royal Caribbean will welcome vaccinated passengers, five crew members tested positive for COVID-19 on a ship completely devoid of passengers, calling into question just how safe cruising is in the era of COVID-19.
It turns out, you don’t even need a gaggle of coughing, sneezing passengers to get your crew sick from COVID-19.
Odyssey of the Seas is a brand-new ship that disembarked from Spain this week for ports in the U.S. It was five crew members lighter after four received positive and one an inconclusive results for COVID-19. They disembarked in Spain, and are quarantining there, according to USA Today. There are no passengers aboard the massive vessel after a stop in Israel was canceled due to the unrest in the country. The crew has not been vaccinated, but will be once they reach America. A spokesperson told USA Today that 100 percent of Royal Caribbean’s crew members will be vaccinated. Royal Caribbean has a similar vision for its customers, according to the BBC:
Richard Fain, chief executive of Royal Caribbean, told the BBC “we expect all of our guests who are eligible for a vaccine to have it”.[...]Mr Fain is hopeful that customers will be encouraged to return soon by a range of new safety measures, including reduced capacity, social distancing and enhanced cleaning processes.
“The combination of the vaccines and testing and contact tracing, all these kinds of protocols really helps us reach our objective, which is to make cruising safer than in your home community”.
“We want you to be more comfortable walking on board a ship than walking down Main Street.”
Even with those cleaning processes and social distancing at zero capacity, they had a COVID-19 outbreak. Royal Caribbean is one of the largest cruise ship companies in the world, operating a fleet of ships that includes five of the largest cruise ships in the world. When the CEO of this massive company says passengers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will need to be vaccinated to board one of these floating palaces, those words carry weight in the whole industry.
That might be a problem. America is the biggest market for cruise ship companies, responsible for 46.5 percent of the nearly 30 million people who board cruise ships annually. Our World In Data shows that only about 40 percent of Americans are currently vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC has been working with cruise companies to re-open ports to cruise ships, but even the government agency admits that even with a 98 percent vaccine rate for all aboard, cruising is not particularly safe when it comes to the virus.
Royal Caribbean’s CEO Richard Fain and the CDC are looking towards mid-summer to resume cruises. Alaska has already opened up, thanks to a special law that will allow the ships to bypass stopping in Canada, which has banned cruises until February 2022. Cruises up north tend to be smaller and all are requiring vaccines for passengers 16 years and up, according to Cruise Industry News.
At this point, cruise ship operators are ready to do whatever it takes to get their boats back at it. The companies took huge losses across the board during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Royal Caribbean alone lost $6.8 billion in 2020 even running “Cruises to Nowhere.” Contrast that loss to making $1.9 billion the year before, according to the BBC.
But there is another problem: How will these companies verify that passengers are vaccinated? Fain told the BBC that his company, which holds 25 percent of the business in this multi-billion dollar industry, is going to trust its customers:
“I don’t think we’re talking about a vaccine passport. I think we are talking about people who are vaccinated, and there are lots of different ways to show that”.
He doesn’t think that there are security issues around the paper documents issued to show vaccines have been given in countries such as the US and UK.
Asked about forgeries he replied: “We don’t think many people would would even bother to do so.”
“We’ve actually surveyed our guests and the vast bulk of the people that have booked our cruises have already been vaccinated, and they’re volunteering it, they want it. And people want a place where they can go where they know they’re safe.”
It’s nice to to see the CEO of a major company has so much faith in his customers, though that massive loss may have help foster his trusting attitude toward his fellow human beings.
To me, cruise ships looked miserable before a global health crisis. Having passengers pinky swear to their vaccine status and letting them flit from port to port seems like a recipe for disaster. It’s long past time to retired these polluting palaces of vacation mediocrity.