Mask-wearing in certain areas; outdoor exercise encouraged; and passengers only dining within their travelling group are among new proposals to get Brits cruising again.
The framework, published by the UK Chamber of Shipping after consultation with Clia, outlines health and hygiene protocols for cruise lines to consider adopting and offers an insight into what the future ocean cruise holiday experience could be like for British guests.
The guidance isn’t mandatory for Clia members but provides suggestions on a number of service and operational issues in the Covid era. TTG takes a look at what your clients should be aware of...
Social distancing and face coverings
According to the guidance, cruise lines should "review and reduce as necessary" the number of passengers they carry to enable social distancing.
Lines should consider methods needed to maintain physical distance between individuals, including onboard signage, floor markings and protective screens, as well as encouraging time spent on deck and operating waiter-only seated service at restaurants and bars.
On face coverings, the guidance states coverings should be worn pre-sailing in the cruise terminal and onboard when it is not possible social distance. Information on the correct use of face coverings should be provided to passengers through announcements and information on posters and screens.
Despite the advice, it also stresses lines "will not discriminate against those who cannot wear a face covering" due to age, health, disability or are otherwise exempt based on UK policy.
Passengers will be health screened prior to embarking, with the guidance suggesting checks are carried out in two phases, primary screening and secondary screening.
Primary screening would include an initial assessment by non-medical cruise or port staff. This may feature a health declaration questionnaire, observing travellers for any signs of Covid and checking their body temperature. Passengers may be asked to fill in their health declaration questionnaire prior to arrival at port to help avoid queueing and delays.
Those who have suspected Covid symptoms, or may have been exposed to someone with Covid, should be referred to secondary screening during which their health check will be conducted by personnel with medical training. This phase may include an in-depth interview, a focused medical examination, a second temperature check and potentially a Covid test.
If secondary screening concludes the passenger may have Covid or has been exposed to the virus, they will be denied boarding. The framework states that each line should use a standard policy for denial of boarding, which would include health support and advice, a safe exit route from the terminal, safe handling of luggage and transportation home to minimise the risk of contact with others and notification of appropriate public health authorities.
Between check-out and check-in, all cabins "should be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and adequately ventilated". The guidance recommends alcohol-based hand sanitisers are placed in each cabin and for cabins to only be used by the occupants themselves, the group they travelled with and designated crew.
Self-service food and beverage operations in passenger restaurants "will only be made available once this is recommended by UK government guidance", the guidelines state, adding that food and beverages should be provided by staff wearing appropriate PPE to seated passengers.
Lines should advise passengers to pre-book restaurants and social distancing should be maintained by passengers at all food service areas. Lines are also recommended to avoid food service provided in public areas of the ship.
Maximum capacity in the venues should be "evaluated and reduced based on government requirements" in order to maintain social distancing.
Passengers should only dine at the same table with "persons staying in the same cabin, same household or same travelling group".
Where possible, guests should be guided to their tables by staff and where feasible the venue should have one-way systems at entrance and exit points.
The framework also encourages the use of room service to "avoid any potential overcrowding" in food and beverage service areas.
It says room service staff should maintain appropriate physical distancing and use PPE, as identified from the relevant risk assessment and "it is preferable" crew only deliver the food to the cabin door.
Entertainment programme look set to be adapted, as the recommendations state lines should evaluate the maximum capacity of venues. This could see the frequency of entertainment events, such as theatre shows, increased and performed to smaller audiences.
Social distancing precautions such as passengers pre-booking, seat signage, seat blocking and additional personnel are likely to be put in place. Guidelines also suggest venues should consider steps to "avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices", with music levels adjusted so it is played "at a volume which does not make normal conversation difficult".
Gyms and pool areas
Lines are advised to encourage passengers to exercise in open-air locations "where practical" as an alternative to indoor gyms and should ask guests to arrive for their session already in workout clothes and use their cabins to change and shower.
Maximum capacity for gym users should be based on the government requirement for social distancing, based on the type of activity being undertaken as well as the equipment layout and the configuration of the facilities. Bathers "should be strongly advised" to shower before entering the pools and enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols should be used in changing rooms.
Sunbeds and chairs around pools should be socially distanced and towels or other washable coverings that cover seats or sunbeds should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
A separate risk assessment should be conducted for the use of hot tubs, whirlpool spas, spa pools, saunas and steam rooms due to the varied designs and locations of where they are sited onboard ships in order to define safe operational use.
According to the guidance, lines should ensure excursions and tours offered by external companies to passengers are operated with appropriate health and hygiene protocols.
While travelling in organised excursions, passengers should maintain social distancing from other tour groups. Hand sanitiser should be made available at gangway exits and all persons should be asked to use them.
Lines should remind passengers of any local requirements to wear face masks, especially if these differ to those in force in the UK, and lines may request guests going ashore to wear face coverings, even if it is not a local requirement.
Several gangways should be used if possible when disembarking passengers to avoid queues and crowding. Baggage should also be "handled with appropriate measures to avoid the spread of Covid-19" with hand hygiene precautions for baggage handlers.
All persons arriving in the UK must comply with government entry regulations, including any quarantine requirements and need to completed a Passenger Locator Form online.
Passengers may be subject to similar requirements when disembarking from a ship in other countries, or when visiting ports of call. Lines should make passengers aware prior to disembarkation of the rules in place in the country of disembarkation.
Dealing with an outbreak
The guidance states that lines must have "a written contingency plan" in place for the prevention and control of a potential Covid outbreak onboard
If one individual shows Covid symptoms, "the contingency plan should come into effect immediately", says the framework.
The symptomatic person and their immediate close contacts should isolate until test results are produced and while a suspected person is being tested, "retroactive contact tracing" should be started to identify the locations onboard where the suspected person has been in the past two days and to identify any potential close contacts.
Persons with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid should be able to safely isolate away from the general population of the ship. Vessels should designate "an appropriate number" of cabins to be used solely for isolation purposes, located away from the general population of the ship.
Lines should do their own risk assessment to evaluate how many cabins will be needed for isolation.
According to the recommendations, lines "are responsible for leading in the management and implementation of repatriation" of both passengers and crew. This includes arranging flights or other transport, potentially for symptomatic passengers, to the UK when required.
Pre-voyage, lines should identify and agreed protocols in place with key ports geographically appropriate for the ship’s planned itinerary.
Lines should check that, where possible, their home port and foreign key ports are located close to international airports to allow them to organise the repatriation of people onboard, whether that be a partial or complete guest repatriation.
Following any outbreak and the possible need for repatriation, cruise operators should "undertake a transparent review process" involving epidemiological assessment with third parties involved in the management of the outbreak and relevant government bodies on how to prevent or alleviate any future incidences, the guidance states.
Agents who would like to hear more about the new Covid framework can join Clia’s webinar at 9am on 6 October. Click here for more details.