Lets be clear from the outset - the last thing anyone wanted to see on Friday night was a news story suggesting that 2, 3, 4 crew onboard Hurtigruten MS Roald Amundsen had tested positive for Covid 19. This was a news story that when it hit probably caused everyone in the industry a knot in the stomach. Our thoughts are of course with everyone infected and hopefully they make full and quick recoveries.
Some have said this was always going to happen and are suggesting that as a result ships should not have sailed at all.
Hurtigruten have now confirmed that all crew have been tested and a total of 36 have tested positive with Covid-19. All passengers have been contacted and will need to remain in quarantine as per local regulations. There are no reports of any passengers showing any signs of infection but then of course isn't that the problem, there typically is no symptoms or symptoms so slight that even testing isn't picking them up.
However they have also made it clear that:
✅ No crew showed any symptoms on board the ship
✅ All crew members are closely monitored and screened daily
✅ Non-Norwegian crew members are quarantined before boarding the ship
✅ Non-European crew need to undergo two negative Covid-19 tests before even leaving their home country
THE ONLY WAY TO TEST IS...
Ultimately there is only way to test new protocols and procedures. The EU released their Healthy Getaway protocols and there is only one way to test them. While obviously there is a huge focus on preventing infection and spread of Covid a large part of the recommendations is on how cruise lines, ports and local authorities deal with any outbreaks and well, Hurtigruten, Tromso and Norwegian authorities are now practicing those recommendations.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The immediate impact is that Hurtigruten have cancelled the next sailings on MS Roald Amundsen but there are still other sailings planned - in fact there are still British Isles cruises set for September. We can't see however the UK Government allowing those to proceed.
We have a suspicion that the Hurtigruten news has caused a delay to MSC Cruises announcement - we don't have any evidence of that, just a hunch as we saw with our own eyes the MSC announcement set for the 1st August. The key difference between MSC & Hurtigruten is that MSC were stating that all passengers would also be tested prior to boarding. That assurance may be enough to allow them to sail however even testing clearly isn't in itself any guarantee it seems.
TUI Cruises - Mein Schiff & AIDA are still cruising / planing to cruise so we don't see any impact there. There are pockets of cruising opening up across Europe - for example Variety Cruises have just returned to Greece. River cruising continues to roll out.
SHOULD EVERYTHING BE SUSPENDED?
There will be pro's and con's for both sides here. What it does feel like right now is that the overwhelming majority of us have or have had Covid19 - we probably just didn't know it.
Personally, our feeling is that if Hurtigruten followed all these protocols that still go further than any hotel, any resort and yet this is still the result then we now have 2 choices:
❓That all travel / holidays should be suspended until there's a vaccine with the impact on those industries and livelihoods catastrophic.
❓ That things continue opening in baby steps in a controlled manner with continuous refinement of protocols in place. This allows not just cruise lines but the travel industry and scientists in general to keep learning, to develop further protocols, to test same to keep everyone who chooses to travel (and anyone they come into contact with) safe.
The latter may be the only option while maintaining hope that a vaccine can be developed as soon as possible to end this awful situation for us all.
Hurtigruten's outbreak may not be desirable but we have faith they have done everything humanly possible to prevent this situation in line with all known science and health advice. As a result the learning from this may turn out to be one of the most important moments for the travel industry in their return to service.
Let us know your thoughts and most importantly STAY SAFE ALL!