Rapid coronavirus testing, pre-boarding health checks, onboard temperature screening and monitoring, and new "fair and flexible" booking policies will all form part of the new normal for Virgin Voyages when it finally launches passenger operations.
Richard Branson’s yet-to-debut cruise line on Thursday (18 June) unveiled its new Voyage Well health plan designed to meet new challenges posed by Covid-19 and attempt to "redefine" health measures at sea when its first ship, Scarlet Lady, launches in October.
The line has established a new Voyage Well expert advisory group to review and guide any operational decisions; develop enhanced health protocols, screening practices and testing regimes; and implement new technologies.
These include a new anti-viral air purification system developed by AtmosAir Solutions, which Virgin says disinfects onboard air – none of which is recycled thanks to a "100% fresh air" heating, ventilation and air conditioning system – and kills 99.99% of viruses.
Virgin Voyages is also collaborating with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and working within latest World Health Organization best practice and guidelines. Besides being subject to pre-cruise testing and screening, crew and guests will be notified via "ethical" contact tracing and a health tracking app if they’ve come into contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus.
Scarlet Lady’s maiden voyage is currently scheduled for 16 October, some six months later than initially planned; it will launch at reduced capacity to facilitate social distancing, and will feature temperature monitoring thermal cameras, hand sanitation stations, touchless taps and bold signage.
Staff will employ UV cleaning and chemical "fogging" techniques; all cabins will be fogged before guests step onboard. Luggage will be fogged too. Various "high touch" points throughout the ship will also be disinfected on a frequent basis, such as door handles and lift buttons.
Practical changes will include limiting large gatherings onboard through virtual ticketing, and leaving empty seats and/or tables between groups at dining venues.
Other efforts to limit contact include using a band for contactless payment, introducing a digital service chat function, and rolling out virtual queuing. There will be no buffets or communal food sharing, and the ship’s onboard food delivery service, ShipEats, will have contactless drop-off and pick-up.
Basic Covid-19 testing and screenings are free of charge onboard, with the ship carrying extra medical supplies and equipment including additional ventilators, more oxygen capacity and greater PPE supplies.
Guests or crew who become unwell will be isolated in their cabins, as will anyone known to have come into close contact with them.
In addition, Virgin Voyages has moved final balance payments to 60 days before sailing, down from 120 days.
Guests can also cancel up to 48 hours before sailing and receive a 100% future cruise credit for sailings departing up to 16 December.