A coronavirus outbreak on a cruise ship docked in New Orleans over the weekend has raised questions about the safety and health measures implemented to revive the industry after a year-long pandemic shutdown.
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, at least 17 passengers and crew members were confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus while on board the Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
One of them is a member of the South African crew, who remained in isolation for the duration of the trip and is suspected of contracting the Omicron variant, Norwegian officials said.
The outbreak demonstrates the difficulty of keeping the virus off cruise ships despite the implementation of strict public health protocols.
Outbreaks happen in crowded places on a cruise ship, but testing passengers and staff minutes before departure and any voyage lasting longer than three to five days will reduce transmission, Michael Saag, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Stating that outbreaks are never good, he cautioned that there should be no exaggeration.
“Unless there is more outbreak, I don’t think we should have any policy to shut down the whole industry,” he said.
With their close range and large portions of older and more vulnerable passengers, cruise ships were the sites of some of the first coronavirus outbreaks outside China.
The cruise was closed in March 2020 under a “no sale order” issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sailing resumed in the summer with most major cruise lines requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for all passengers and crew members.
Despite cruise ship operators’ best efforts to provide a healthy and safe environment for crew and passengers, ships with a high percentage of vaccinated individuals continue to operate as the COVID outbreak continues, the CDC reported.
In one instance between August and September, 105 passengers and crew members on a cruise ship had an outbreak of infection on four consecutive voyages, according to the CDC.
In another instance, between July and August, 58 passengers and crew members on board the ship became infected, the CDC reported.
The agency has confirmed 1,359 cases between June 26 and October 21.
“It’s a high-risk environment,” said Dr. Professor of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. William Schaffner said. “A cruise ship is an enclosed population where people are in face-to-face contact, often in very small spaces for long periods of time.”
The Norwegian breakaway, which departed New Orleans on 28 November, had more than 3,200 people on board, stopping in Belize, Honduras and Mexico during the voyage.
Company officials said all passengers and employees were vaccinated, and those who tested positive for the coronavirus were asymptomatic.
Federal health officials are investigating the outbreak.
“We will never compromise on health and safety and, of course, we will continue to take all appropriate actions to ensure the well-being of all and protect public health,” Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement.
The ship has already returned to sea for another voyage.
The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 95 percent of cruise liners, has flown more than 3 million people around the world since the resumption of operations, he told Granthshala News.
Saag recommends that cruise passengers be tested for COVID a few minutes before boarding the ship and that they wear masks when traveling by boat.
“I think it’s a wise approach,” he said. “The pandemic is going to be with us for quite a long time, so what we’re going to do is use the knowledge we have and apply it.”
Schaffner, who described Norwegian Cruise Line’s outbreak as “substantial”, agreed.
“The virus rules and you have to adapt to it,” he said.
The Cruise Lines International Association says measures similar to those are already in place, with periodic testing during and near the end of voyages, as well as contact tracing and government reporting of positive cases.
The association said that despite vaccination requirements, low capacity and social distancing sailing, cruise ships will never be COVID-proof, as many passengers who test negative before departure will show symptoms.
“They have done everything they can. How and when they are handling the people who come on board,” said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, a marketing and technology company that represents more than 5,000 travel agencies. They’re onboard, so they’ve been very tight and methodical.” “You’re going to have success cases. But I firmly believe that the implementation of the protocol will keep Kovid away. ,
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