The U.K. cruise company, Saga, has become the first tour operator to require passengers to have a Covid-19 vaccination before setting sail. It marks a turning point in international travel, as more and more companies are deliberating how to safely restart travel, and as the clamours for ‘vaccination passports’ or ‘immunity passports’ become louder.
Saga cruises offers vacations for over 50s, and is only taking reservations on the condition that passengers have had a Covid-19 shot, two if necessary, at least 14 days before they set sail. The Guardian reported a surge in bookings since the scheme was announced.
Saga decided to bring in the new requirements after taking a poll of its customers, who said they were overwhelmingly supportive; the first cruise will depart on 4 May, giving its customers enough time to get jabs. Saga will also enforce Covid-19 tests at check in and once onboard, there will be more medical staff, enhanced cleaning and far fewer passengers in total.
While most cruise ships remain grounded–President Biden has six weeks to decide if he will allow cruises to set sail or extend the ‘no sail’ ban past 1 March–some cruises have set sail during the pandemic.
The MSC Grandiosa set sail from Genoa in September to Naples and Malta, and National Geographic reported on the new normal for cruise liners: cruise ship workers cleaning in Hazmat suits, spraying the loungers with disinfectant; dancing allowed in the disco but only if wearing masks; and meals served at socially-distanced tables after a pre-meal temperature check.
To say that the industry has suffered is an understatement, of course, and it cannot afford another disastrous PR event. Cruises were seen as the embodiment of the pandemic last March, as pictures flashed around the world of passengers catching Covid-19 onboard; P&O’s Ruby Princess, docked in Australia with over 900 infected people. Authorities were criticised for allowing the ship to sail into port without restrictions on March 19 and almost 3,000 passengers went back to their homes around the world, some carrying the virus with them. Bloomberg reported that the ship was the “single most important vector for the coronavirus in Australia, accounting at one point for more than 10% of the country’s cases.”