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And Now: Frustrating Cruise News…Oh, and Wear a Mask!

“We have failed,” CEO Daniel Skjeldamn told a news conference. “I apologize strongly on behalf of the company.”

Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen
while under construction

Over the weekend, it was announced the Hurtigruten, the Norwegian shipping and cruise line, had an outbreak of COVID-19 on its ship, Roald Amundsen during its first and/or second cruise in Norway. As of this moment, there are 36 of 154 crew an five passengers that have tested positive and about 387 guests (over two cruises) who may be affected (with all but 60 of them traveling elsewhere).

It is not yet known who Person No. 1 is as of yet, but there is much to be learned about why this happened and, of course, whether the rush to make money overcame the conservative approach we have learned COVID-19 deserves. What have I learned…so far and, of course, subject to change…as to Hurtigruten’s admitted failure appears to be three-fold; and, to me, inexcusable:

WEAR A MASK – There is overwhelming agreement that wearing a mask is extremely effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. While Hurtigruten touts that it abides by all Norwegian health mandates, has limited capacity to under 50%, eliminated buffets, etc. there is one thing that Norway does not require is masks! Now I appreciate that passengers may well be resistent to wearing masks in a number of circumstances, but the crew – especially when in the more cramped crew areas – can be mandated to wear them.

As the crew has regular contact with the passengers, their not wearing masks during passenger-crew interactions are simply beyond my comprehension. Here in California and in New York, all servers in restaurants and store employees are to wear masks. Contact tracing has shown that this works as the vast majority of COVID-19 spread has been caused by small group and family gatherings; not restaurants or stores.

To me this is a classic example of excusing the dismissal of science and safety because politicians have other agenda. I don’t find the absence of a law mandating crew to wear masks unless in their private quarters an appropriate excuse.

TESTING OR THE LACK THEREOF – I have no idea what testing was actually undertaken by Hurtigruten before the outbreak. It claims that it had isolated four crew that had non-COVID-19 associated symptoms, but those symptoms, why they were allegedly not associated, and whether they were nonetheless tested for COVID-19 onboard, have not been disclosed.

It is also noted that Hurtigruten did not require pre-boarding COVID-19 testing for guests arriving from a number of European countries. (There were no Americans on board.)

So what was being done on the ship? Temperature scans are, as we now know, only going to catch those with symptomatic COVID-19 and won’t during the first few days as the infected person sheds the virus.

POST-DISCOVERY CONTROLS – With the facts, as known, showing that Hurtigruten had

  • (A) Less than stringent Pre-Embarkation controls;
  • (B) No Mask Required protocol; and
  • (C) No Controls When Multiple Illnesses Requiring Isolation/Hospitalization Appeared On Board

I am mortified (not too strong a word) that Hurtigruten would not have advised the passengers that four of the crew had been isolated for illness…even with a disclaimer that their symptoms are not consistent with COVID-19 disembark and, further, that they allowed those passengers to disembark rather than wait for those four crew members to be tested for COVID-19. I understand people have plans and that there were new guests about to arrive to the ship, but travel during a pandemic requires forethought, forward planning and a very conservative approach to any health issues.

Paul Gauguin

Another ship also had a COVID-19 infection. Ponant’s Paul Gauguin, which sails in French Polynesia also reported a COVID-19 positive passenger on the third day of its 10-day cruise. While less is known about this situation, it is known that the passenger was tested onboard, found to be positive, and the ship immediately returned to Papeete. The passenger and traveling family member were immediately removed from the ship, given a second test, and isolated. All of the other passengers have been quarantined in their rooms and will be given COVID-19 tests.

I do not know what will be happening next, but the Paul Gauguin’s response appears to be far more appropriate. Here are its pre and onboard protocols:

Pre-Boarding

  • All guests will be asked to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test (PCR) at embarkation (excludes residents and visitors’ who have been in French Polynesia for over 14 days).
  • All Guests will be required to present the completed Health Declaration Covid-19 form included with final travel documents.
  • All guests will undergo a health check and screening by the ship’s medical staff. 
  • All luggage will pass through a disinfecting zone by sanitizing mist or UV lamps.
  • Surgical and cloth masks, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer bottles will be provided to passengers.

On-board experience

  • 100 percent fresh air in staterooms, through non-recirculating air conditioning systems.
  • Ventilated air will be renewed in the common areas at least five times per hour.
  • Restaurant layouts have been redesigned and will only offer contactless a la carte dining options.
  • Public spaces, such as the fitness room and theater will be capped at 50 percent occupancy.
  • Hourly disinfecting of high-touch points, such as door handles and handrails, with EcoLab peroxide, which eliminates 100 percent of germs, bacteria and against biological contamination.
  • Crew members are required to wear a mask or protective visor when in contact with guests.
  • Guests will be asked to wear a mask in hallway corridors and will be recommended in public spaces.
  • The Gauguin is equipped with advanced hospital equipment, including mobile laboratory terminals that enable testing on site for infectious or tropical diseases. Advanced diagnostic equipment such as ultrasound, radiology and blood biological analysis is available, and one doctor and one nurse are present on every sailing.
  • During the cruise, hydroalcoholic gel is placed at several points of the ship in self-service.

Hopefully, we will find that this more conservative approach paid off.

I am not surprised that, like many illnesses, an occurrence happened. COVID-19 is something we are going to have to live with with an understanding that for some – like other diseases – it can be very serious for a limited portion of the population. With the overall worldwide COVID-19 cases exceeding 18,000,000 with 687,000 deaths it is no joke. But we do need to look closer at the current numbers to gain scientific perspective (not media hype or political denials). But that is for another article. The point is that it is, in the short term and maybe forever, we are going to have to deal with the certainty that COVID-19 is going to rear its ugly head and we must focus on how we mitigate that and then deal with it when it happens.

As for Hurtigruten, I am left with the impression that selfish arrogance rather than naiveite may well have led to this deeply disturbing situation. Having a methodology in place to substantially reduce the probability of a COVID-19 infected person boarding a ship, a protocol to substantially reduce the change (and scope) of that person unintentionally spreading the infection (like masks), and immediate mandatory testing of any suspicious illness before anyone disembarks, seems so self-evident.

Meanwhile: Remember that it only takes one person to have COVID-19 spread. It could be a crew member, it could be a fellow passenger, it could be your child or favorite nephew that was hanging out with his buddies last week, it could be that person who believes his freedom is being violated who sits next to you in the park…or it could be You!

Please wear a mask, wash your hands and socially space.

Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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