Hijacked boats, passengers placed in isolation: the Omicron variant is once again disrupting the world of cruises, which highlights in its defense the small percentage of passengers concerned and that these are mainly asymptomatic cases.
Despite the “health bubbles” (compulsory vaccination, multiple tests) put in place by the companies on their boats when travel resumed in spring 2021, in Hong Kong, a Royal Carribean Spectrum of the Seas cruise was forced Wednesday to return to port prematurely because of 9 contact cases out of 3,700 passengers.
In Italy, at least 45 vacationers out of the 4,813 of the Grandiosa liner of the MSC company were placed in quarantine in the port of Genoa, and in Spain, 3,000 passengers of the AIDAnova were disembarked in Lisbon instead of the Canaries after the detection of 68 positive cases.
In Brazil, the cruise lines have announced themselves to suspend travel until January 21 due to “differences” with the health authorities on the application of the Covid protocols decided two months ago.
In the United States, the health authorities (CDC) raised the alert threshold and recommended avoiding cruises, including for people vaccinated. American customers represented in 2019, before the pandemic, 48% of the 30.5 million passengers worldwide, according to a study by Roland Berger.
The CDC’s decision “is particularly puzzling,” responded in a statement the international cruise line association, CLIA, which argues that “cases identified on cruise ships represent only a tiny minority of the total population on board – much less than on land – and that the majority of these cases are asymptomatic or of a mild nature, representing little or no burden on medical services on board or ashore “.
– “Nothing is 100% virus proof” –
“What we have learned throughout this pandemic is that nothing is 100% proof against the virus, nothing”, defends himself to AFP an executive of a large global company wishing remain anonymous.
“All passengers are fully vaccinated and 100% of the population – crew and passengers – are tested several times before and during the cruise,” he adds, “no hotel, resort, train, bus, test 100% of its customers like us “.
Omicron is a new blow for a market which, in 2019, represented 49 billion dollars, according to the study of the firm Roland Berger and which saw its activity completely stopped for a year from March 2020.
“This sector has been extremely penalized. They have lost tens of billions of dollars,” explains Didier Arino, director of the French specialist firm Protourisme. With Omicron, “they will suffer the media coverage (of the cases) and the loss of customers,” he predicts.
At the end of December, the Royal Carribean company, already announced in a press release, “a drop in reservations and an increase in cancellations for short-term sailings but to a lesser degree than that known with the Delta variant”.
Norwegian Cruise Line, another industry giant, canceled eight destinations between January 5 and April “due to current travel restrictions.”
The companies are also facing the positive case in their flight crew. In Brazil, 60% of the positive cases identified by the health authorities were crew members just like 60 of the 68 cases in Spain on AIDAnova.
At the end of December, despite Omicron, Richard Fain, CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group said he was “optimistic”, predicting a “solid transition year in 2022 and a very good year 2023”.