Cruise ships around the world were forced to postpone all travel when the coronavirus pandemic emerged in early 2020. However, desperate to recover what revenue remained in the calendar year, some international cruise lines chose to gradually reopen this summer using carefully predefined COVID-19 protocols.
In early August, a Norwegian cruise ship operated by the firm Hurtigruten, reported a major outbreak on one of its ships, the MS Roald Amundsen.
Now Hurtigruten has halted all leisure cruises and faces a reckoning as it determines how so many passengers contracted COVID-19.
More Than 40 Passengers Test Positive
The MS Roald Amundsen began a week-long voyage to Svalbard in the Arctic, with other ports planned in England and Scotland in September. Crew members, which included citizens from Germany, France, and the Philippines, were tested for COVID-19 before leaving their home countries, but did not quarantine before starting work on the ship.
A total of four crew members were admitted to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms soon after the ship docked in the Arctic port of Tromso. All four tested positive for COVID-19 infection. After more comprehensive testing, 32 additional crew members on board were found to be infected.
However, nearly 180 passengers had been allowed to depart the ship before the outbreak was identified, forcing authorities into a chaotic scramble to locate and test those who had been onboard. At least five passengers tested positive, and all have been contacted and instructed to self-isolate for 10 days.
Health officials fully expect more positive cases to emerge, and they are prepared to perform the contact tracing necessary to minimize the impacts of the outbreak.
Though Hurtigruten is not the first cruise line to attempt to resume cruise travel amid the pandemic, it’s one of the first to publicly announce a post-lockdown outbreak on board one of its ships.
“This is a serious situation for everyone involved. We have not been good enough and we have made mistakes,” Chief Executive Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement.
“A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures,” he added. “The only responsible choice is to suspend all expedition sailings.”
Norway’s government also responded with a 14-day ban of the disembarkation of any cruise ship with more than 100 people on board.
The outbreak on the MS Roald Amundsen could have happened to any ship- and still may. It’s the latest blow to an industry pummeled by the pandemic.
On July 16, the CDC extended the No Sail Order and Suspension of Further Embarkation that was originally enacted on April 9, 2020. The Order is in effect until September 30, or until the CDC Director and Secretary of Health and Human Services declare that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency.
Many cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean planned to resume cruises in August, but had to cancel those plans when the No Sail Order was extended on July 16.
Whenever cruises do resume- which may not be until 2021- major cruise lines like Carnival plan to use enhanced pre-embarkation health screenings, extensive health checks, and aggressive safety measures to keep all guests safe. Yet it’s all one large experiment as the pandemic continues to carve an unpredictable path through life as we once knew it.