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Royal Caribbean new cruise ship health protocols include masks, social distancing, testing and more

In:
21Sep2020

Royal Caribbean Group has submitted its new comprehensive list of new health protocols and policy changes to the CDC that it will implement on its cruise ships in order to restart cruises.

The Healthy Sail Panel announced on Monday 74 detailed steps that it believes will protect guests, crew members and the places cruise ships visit from the spread of COVID-19.

The list of protocols is 65 pages long that include testing, the use of face coverings, and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals. 

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman Richard Fain said Royal Caribbean will use the Panel’s recommendations to inform the development of new, detailed operating protocols, which will be submitted to the CDC and other authorities around the globe for review and approval.

Here is a breakdown of the changes that are either going to be implemented in the short term and discontinued over time, or kept for the foreseeable future.

Blue = Temporary Change that could be modified or removed later.

Green = Change intended to be kept over time.

Testing

1. All crew should be tested for SARS-CoV-2 between 5 days and 24 hours prior to leaving their home location to join the ship and receive a negative result, quarantine for seven days on board the ship upon arrival, and take a test at the end of that seven-day period and receive a negative result, before beginning their duties.

2. Cruise operators should implement a crew surveillance program, including periodic testing for SARS-CoV-2, to provide a reasonable level of assurance that the virus is not circulating among crew.

3. Other employees and ancillary staff (e.g., luggage porters and transportation providers) should undergo daily symptom screening but do not need to be regularly tested like crew or guests.

4. All guests joining a ship, regardless of method of travel to the ship, should be tested for SARS-CoV-2 between 5 days and 24 hours before boarding and receive a negative result that is shared with the cruise operator, before coming on board.

Health Screening

5. At embarkation, all guests and crew boarding the ship should undergo health screening to identify any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (or other infectious diseases) and any contact with individuals suspected or confirmed to have a SARS-CoV-2 infection prior to the cruise.

6. All individuals should have their temperature taken via contactless device as part of the boarding process.

7. Any individual who discloses symptoms of possible SARS-CoV-2 infection or close contact with an individual with suspected infection, or who displays a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above, should undergo secondary screening by medical personnel to determine whether they may board the ship or whether they will be denied boarding.

Denial of Boarding

8. Cruise operators should not allow an individual to sail if they do not affirmatively state their willingness to comply with current safety and public health protocols.

9. Individuals who have received a positive SARS-CoV-2 test or who have in the last 14 days been in close contact with an individual with confirmed infection should not be permitted to board the ship.

Policy on Guests at Increased Risk of Severe Illness

10. Cruise operators should rely on CDC guidelines to determine who is at an increased risk of severe illness and who may be at an increased risk of severe illness.

11. Cruise operators should recommend that guests who are or may be at increased risk of severe illness consult with their health care provider before traveling.

Guest Information & Education

12. In addition to the information typically communicated at booking, guests should be provided sufficient information on SARS-CoV-2 to assess their individual risk, to fully understand the safety precautions being taken by the cruise line to address SARS-CoV-2, and to agree to comply with the necessary safety protocols while traveling.

Onboard Symptom Tracking and Monitoring

13. Cruise operators should conduct once-daily temperature checks for guests and crew on board.

14. Cruise operators should employ routine symptom screening methodologies to help ensure that potential SARS-CoV-2 infections are identified as quickly as possible.

15. Cruise operators should ensure education efforts are in place to help guests understand the importance of reporting symptoms and potential repercussions of failure to report symptoms.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Usage

16. To prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, cruise operators should require guests and crew to wear cloth face coverings/face masks in accordance with CDC recommendations.

17. Crew members with prolonged contact (i.e., contact that may result in exposure by CDC’s definition) with guests on board the ship should be required to utilize complementary PPE, in addition to wearing a face mask/face covering.

Capacity Restrictions

18. When returning to sailing, cruise operators should adjust guest and crew load factors in a manner that allows for appropriate physical distancing on board in accordance with applicable guidance, taking into consideration the size and design of each ship.

General Distancing Guidelines

19. Cruise operators’ facilities on board the ship, at terminals, and at cruise line-owned and operated destinations should be modified to promote and facilitate physical distancing in accordance with the CDC recommendation of a distance of at least six feet.

20. Abundant signage and floor markers should be utilized to communicate physical distancing requirements in the terminal, at cruise line-owned destinations, and on board the ship, with a particular emphasis on high-traffic areas (e.g., gangways, elevators, ship common areas).

Terminal, Boarding, Debarkation Controls

21. Cruise operators should utilize processes and protocols for touchless check-in and speedier boarding to reduce contact and potential congestion in the terminal.

Sanitation

22. Cruise operators should educate guests in advance of travel about the sanitation measures that are being used preboard, on board, and at private, cruise line-owned and operated destinations.

23. Enhanced sanitation protocols should be employed to protect against the risk of SARSCoV-2 transmission via inanimate surfaces or objects, with attention to both high- and low-touch areas of the ship, terminal, and cruise line-owned and operated destinations.

24. Cruise operators should ensure that all disinfectants used for cleaning and disinfection are on the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 or national equivalent for terminals located outside the U.S., which must also comply with local government regulations.

Hand Hygiene

25. Cruise operators should follow CDC recommendations regarding the use of hand sanitizers and hand washing with soap and water to craft their recommendations for guests.

26. Cruise operators should ensure that hand sanitizer stations, wipes, or hand washing stations are conveniently placed around the ship for guests’ and crew members’ usage.

27. Cruise operators should ensure that crew members are thoroughly trained on all aspects of infection control with emphasis on proper hand hygiene techniques.

28. In addition to providing hand sanitizer and hand washing stations on board, cruise operators should encourage hand washing or use of hand sanitizer before and after guests participate in recreational activities.

Ventilation, HVAC, Filtration Controls

29. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled for.

30. Cruise operators should use a variety of indoor air management strategies aimed at reducing occupant exposure to infectious droplets/aerosols.

31. All cruise operators should upgrade the HVAC systems on their ships to, ideally, MERV 13 filters to minimize pathogen dispersal from infected guests and crew.

32. Cruise operators’ indoor air management strategies should be optimized given the constraints of ship age and ventilation type.

33. When considering air management strategies, cruise operators should have a primary focus on reducing exposures in the core set of areas where guests and crew would be most vulnerable to droplet/airborne exposure to virus.

Medical Personnel

34. As a part of augmenting onboard medical capacity to ensure preparedness for potential COVID-19 cases, cruise operators should increase their existing ratios of medical personnel to guests and crew.

35. Cruise operators should ensure redundancy and back-up for onboard medical personnel.

36. Cruise operators should ensure there is sufficient onboard medical leadership on all ships, including the designation of a crew member with responsibility for infectious disease prevention and response who will inform and oversee execution of components of the response to an outbreak. Cruise operators should also ensure they have a doctor on board with intensivist training to manage the medical care of severely ill patients.

Onboard Clinic Design & Operations

37. Cruise operators should increase the capacity in their onboard medical facilities to treat patients who may become critically ill from SARS-CoV-2 infection or other unrelated illnesses.

38. Cruise operators should amplify the varieties and amount of equipment in the onboard medical facilities, including the ability to test for SARS-CoV-2 infection on board.

39. Cruise ship facilities should be arranged to accommodate care for patients presenting with suspected infectious disease separately from care for those presenting with noninfectious diseases.

40. Rather than a patient having an in-person appointment at the medical facility to receive a diagnosis or care, medical appointments should be scheduled virtually/remotely and/or medical staff members should hold appointments in the patient’s stateroom when possible.

Treatment Plan

41. A cruise line’s medical treatment plan should be responsive to the current understanding of COVID-19 and optimal treatment protocols, as well as to the specific clinical needs of each patient.

42. Cruise operators should have established relationships with onshore medical institutions that can provide telemedicine consultations in the event of a more serious COVID-19 case.

Contact Tracing

43. Cruise operators should use CDC guidance as a general guide regarding exposure (< 6 feet for ≥ 15 minutes), pending updates based on emerging scientific evidence.

44. Cruise operators should define high-, medium-, and low-risk exposures such that recommendations for each exposure level can be efficiently operationalized

45. Cruise operators should employ a variety of contact tracing methodologies to ensure that all potential SARS-CoV-2 infections are identified as quickly as possible.

46. Cruise operators should collect metrics on the effectiveness of contact tracing.

47. Cruise operators should be transparent in their communication with guests about what information is being collected and how it will be used for contact tracing

Isolation/Quarantine

48. Cruise operators should designate certain cabins on the ship as isolation and quarantine spaces.

49. Cruise operators should provide guidelines for the determination of whether, when, and where an individual should be isolated or quarantined based on their exposure risk, symptoms, etc.

Debarkation Scenarios

50. Cruise operators should have a thorough mobilization response plan in place prior to sailing to address the various scenarios that may require individuals with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection (guests or crew), and their close contacts, to debark from the ship.

51. Cruise operators should define the criteria for small-, moderate-, and large-scale debarkation scenarios in advance of cruising, including a clear decision-making process to guide thinking about when the threshold has been met for each risk level.

52. Cruise operators should establish offsite incident management with designated medical professionals’ advice to respond rapidly and to aid in decision-making.

53. In any debarkation scenario, individuals with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, close contacts, and persons under investigation should be kept separate from any healthy individuals (i.e., those not identified through contact tracing or those who have tested negative).

54. Cruise operators should establish a communications plan, and assign a communications lead in advance, to share timely, relevant information with crew and guests on board the ship in the event of a SARS-CoV-2 infection during or after the cruise. Additionally, cruise operators should have systems in place to coordinate information about SARS-CoV-2 infections to relevant health authorities.

Destination & Itinerary Planning

55. There are two essential prerequisites that need to be satisfied in order for a ship to sail to a given port:

  1. Approval from the local government to visit a port
  2. Agreement to allow safe passage to SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals and their close contacts to debark and travel home.

56.Cruise operators should rely primarily on three key parameters when determining whether to travel to a given port:

  1. Current burden of SARS CoV-2 as defined by testing rate, positivity rate, and death rate.
  2. Local testing capacity.
  3. Local/regional/national implementation of SARS CoV-2 mitigation protocols.

57. In the startup phase, cruises itineraries should be as simple as possible, utilizing private, cruise line-owned and operated destinations or ports where there can be tight control of the onshore experience.

58. Cruise operators should initially return to service with shorter length trips.

Guest Excursions

59. During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit.

60. Cruise operators should establish expectations of the vendors at the destinations they visit to ensure that they are taking recommended steps to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2

61. Cruise operators should incorporate verification of compliance with SARS-CoV-2 protocols into their routine ongoing monitoring guidelines for excursion vendors.

62. Cruise operators should ensure that guests are thoroughly informed about potential exposure risks and how to minimize their risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 at the planned destination.

63. Cruise operators should offer indoor excursions only if physical distancing, use of masks, and other recommended protective measures can be implemented.

Prevention (Crew)

64. Cruise operators should manage the population density of crew areas of the ship

65. Cruise operators should provide opportunities for crew to debark from the ship at destinations while maintaining reasonable limitations on their movement to reduce risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

66. Crew should be placed in single-occupancy crew cabins whenever possible to minimize extended periods of close contact with other crew members.

67. Cruise operators should limit crew members’ close contact with guests over extended periods of time wherever possible. When distancing isn’t possible, crew should be provided with additional PPE appropriate to their job type.

68. Cruise operators should include crew in the surveillance, contact tracing, quarantine, isolation, and debarkation protocols that will be employed in the event that a SARS-CoV2 infection is discovered on board.

Training & Culture

69. Crew should be provided with regular training on protocols to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and empowered to take action to ensure these protocols are followed by guests and fellow crew members.

70. Cruise operators should reinforce a culture of honesty and collective responsibility among crew for following protocols and creating a safer environment.

Validation of Implementation

71. Cruise operators should have measures and metrics in place to perform continual self assessment of compliance with all updated health and safety protocols as well as methods for third-party verification of compliance.

72. Cruise operators should perform an “after-action review” following a cruise on which a SARS-CoV-2 infection was detected to assess gaps and make improvements prior to the next trip.

The Path Forward

73. In their return to sailing, cruise operators should use a phased approach to demonstrate that protocols can be successfully implemented on board their ships before returning to full operations with guests on board.

74.Cruise operators should implement a formal process to review health and safety experiences related to COVID-19 on cruises to enhance best practices and shared learnings for continuous improvement.

Royal Caribbean CEO warns anti-cruise group is flooding CDC to extend no-sail order

In:
Category: 
19Sep2020

Royal Caribbean International President & CEO Michael Bayley took to social media to urge cruise fans to share their thoughts on cruises restarting, following a number of comments by a "a small anti-cruise group" against cruise lines.

Mr. Bayley posted on his Facebook page a short message urging everyone to submit their comments to the CDC prior to the September 21st deadline for input on how cruise lines should restart cruising.

"On Monday the 21st, the CDC closes the request for public comment regarding healthy return to cruising. There have been over 3000 comments, many of which have been very constructive and it has been incredible to hear from you all. Recently, a small anti-cruise group has lobbied their supporters to comment on cruise beyond the CDC remit. If you have a passion for cruising and the wonderful memories you have created sailing the oceans of the world, please visit and comment today."

He did not mention the group by name, but sifting through recent comments in the CDC's database of public comments showed one such post by a member of the group Stand.Earth.

Visiting the group's website, there are detailed instructions for members to submit anti-cruise messages to the CDC before the comment period expires.

The group went as far as to not only provide instructions on how to access the comments, but also a series of talking points to that bring up a few tropes about cruise ships.

The group asks its members to point out air pollution, the type of fuel cruise ships use, and "multiple reports" of health issues on ships that have resumed cruises.

At the time of this post, a search of the CDC's website returned at least 63 submissions that included the Stand.Earth URL referenced in the submission.

The CDC Public Comment period ends this weekend, on September 21.

The CDC has said they will use these comments in formulating a new policy for cruise ships. According to their website, "This information may be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships."

How to submit a comment

Submitting a comment on how cruises should restart to the CDC is pretty simple and you can do it all online.

To complete it online, visit the Federal Register's E-Rulemaking Portal by going to the U.S. Federal Register's website.

Be sure to use the Document ID to search for this page: CDC-2020-0087-0001.

You are allowed to keep your submission anonymous, or include your name with the submission.

Time running out to send your comments to the CDC on cruises restarting

In:
Category: 
18Sep2020

There are just three days left for the public to share their ideas with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about how cruise lines should be allowed to restart cruises.

The CDC Public Comment period ends this weekend on September 21, which means now is the time to send comments before it expires.

Since July 29, the CDC issued a Request for Information on the resumption of cruising, which is open to anyone to comment on, including cruise fans.

You are free to write anything you like, or respond to any one of the  59 different topics and subtopics about cruise that the CDC would like feedback on. These topics include questions about who should be denied boarding, what cruise lines should be prepared to offer, and more.

Why should I send a comment?

If you are wondering if it is worth your time to send a comment, the cruise industry believes the answer is a definite "yes".

The CDC has said they will use these comments in formulating a new policy for cruise ships. According to their website, "This information may be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships."

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has been encouraging all travel agents the importance of responding.

Cruise fans are keenly aware of the ins and outs of cruising, as well as the lengths cruise lines go to maintain a safe cruising environment.  Moreover, cruise fans certainly have a better handle on their favorite cruise line than the CDC does.

How to submit a comment

Submitting a comment on how cruises should restart to the CDC is pretty simple and you can do it all online.

To complete it online, visit the Federal Register's E-Rulemaking Portal by going to the U.S. Federal Register's website.

Be sure to use the Document ID to search for this page: CDC-2020-0087-0001.

Your comment can be up to 5,000 words, or you can instead write as long a response as you like in another document, and attach it to the submission form via the "Attach Files" box.

You are allowed to keep your submission anonymous, or include your name with the submission.

Royal Caribbean cancels remaining 2020 Australia & New Zealand cruises

In:
14Sep2020

Royal Caribbean announced on Tuesday morning in Australia that it has cancelled all of its scheduled sailings through the end of 2020.

The new set of cancellations applies only to sailings out of Australia and New Zealand through December 31, 2020.

A statement by Royal Caribbean indicated the cruise line made the announcement now so that guests could make alternate holiday arrangements.

"The health and safety of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit is our top priority and we are working closely with local health and government authorities towards this shared goal. Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have extended our suspension of sailings, beyond that of the Australian government’s, to include sailings departing Australia and New Zealand on or before 31 December, 2020. This is to allow guests booked on Christmas and New Year sailings to make alternative holiday arrangements."

Guests who were booked on affected sailings will receive emails with compensation offers and choices of what to do.

Why the cruises were cancelled

The decision by Royal Caribbean International to cancel its November and December 2020 cruises comes days after the Australian government extended its ban of cruise ships entering Australian waters until mid December.

The order encompasses restrictions on overseas travel, the entry of cruise ships into Australia, the supply and sale of certain essential goods and retail stores at international airports.

At one point, Australia looked like it might be a place in the world where Royal Caribbean could start cruises again first, but that hope has quickly disappated.

The 3 most important upcoming dates for Royal Caribbean

In:
Category: 
12Sep2020

If you are one of the many cruise fans waiting anxiously for when cruises might resume, there are three important dates to keep an eye on over the next few weeks and months.

It seems like every day something is changing related to government or corporate policy, and the situation is so fluid that it is difficult to keep an eye on exactly what will happen and when.

Just this week, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said in a video that he feels, more positive that we may be within sight of the end."

So if you are waiting for more news on cruises starting up, here are three important dates to monitor.

No Sail Order expiration: September 30

The U.S. Center for Disease Control "No Sail" Order is set to expire on September 30 (unless rescinded earlier), and that is a critical date for the cruise industry.

This is one of the major reasons cruises have not restarted in the United States, and it may even be a major reason why there has not really been any kind of firm talk of a timetable for cruises to start.

At the risk of jinxing things, we are just a couple weeks away from the order being lifted, which would be a major obstacle lifted for the cruise industry.

Similar to Groundhog Day, an extension means many weeks more of no cruising, but a lifting of the order would open the door for cruise lines.

Healthy Sail Panel recommendations submission: End of September

By the end of this month, two important things should occur: the conclusion of the CDC's open comment opportunity and the Healthy Sail Panel's subsequent recommendations for new policies.

In late July, the CDC began accepting comments from the public on cruise lines resuming passenger operations. The public has until September 21 to send in comments.

The Royal Caribbean Group assembled a blue ribbon panel of health experts, known as the Healthy Sail Panel, which are tasked with guiding Royal Caribbean with new recommendations on how to start cruising again safely.

The Healthy Sail Panel is waiting for the CDC comment period to end, before taking into account any new recommendations or policies that come out of that exercise.

"The Healthy Sail Panel is working diligently on recommendations for cruise health and safety," Royal Caribbean said in a recent statement. "The CDC’s open comment period ends on September 21 and the panel is taking that additional time to do its work."

All cruise lines need to submit a set of new policies and procedures to the CDC that will keep guests and crew safe once sailings resume, and you can argue that this is among the most important milestones for Royal Caribbean to hit, since it has such a deep impact.

Operational restart: November 1

You might say the November 1st date of cruises resuming that Royal Caribbean has stated is a pipe dream or a moving target, but for all intents and purposes, it is the de facto date we have to work with in terms of cruises starting.

Since cruises shutdown in March, we have seen lots of date targets come and go for when Royal Caribbean aims to start cruising again, but in a "best case scenario" of the two big dates mentioned earlier in this article being on-time, the November 1st date maybe/could/should/might be the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel".

There are a lot of logistics that have to come into play for this to occur, but no one can deny that November 1st is still the line in the sand of when something might occur.

Essentially, we cannot ignore it, even if it is likely to change.

Miami-Dade officials slam CDC for slow response to cruise lines to restarting

In:
Category: 
10Sep2020

The Miami-Dade Tourism and the Ports Committee met on Thursday to discuss the opening plan for cruise lines, and placed much of the blame on cruises not restarting on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The Board of Commissioners met in a virtual meeting, along with representatives from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian and MSC cruise lines.

Vice Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa opened the meeting by pointing out the double standard of other industries being able to reopen while the cruise industry has not due to the CDC.

"While other industries have been allowed to reopen in phases, the cruise industry remains totally shut down. In April, the CDC gave the cruise industry seven days to come up with a lay-up plan, and the cruise industry worked tirelessly and gave them the plan in seven days. The CDC took 14 weeks to somewhat respond to the plan that was presented."

"They cannot wait another 14 weeks to get some feedback from the CDC. The cruise lines will need immediate engagement and action from the CDC in order to reopen."

Ms. Sosa spoke about the fact the cruise lines have been diligently working on plans, with no response or feedback from the CDC.

"The problem is that's not fair, that the CDC is not paying attention and communicating with the cruise industry on the plans that they are created so they can tell them this is right, this needs more work, so they can be prepared."

Royal Caribbean: "We're ready"

Royal Caribbean International President & CEO Michael Bayley also addressed the meeting, praising Miami officials for the support they have provided.

"If it hadn't been for the assistance that Juan and the Port of Miami provided Royal Caribbean, we would have struggled enormously with all of our guest and crew repatriations and the ongoing provisioning of our ships, which are all over the Caribbean."

Mr. Bailey spoke about how much the cruise industry contributes to the local economy, and the work Royal Caribbean is doing to get back to sailing.

"As the previous speakers have recognized, the cruise industry is truly vital to the Florida economy, contributing over eight and a half billion dollars in direct spending.

"We have been working over the past several months on the creation of a universal set of guidelines that dovetail and fit into the work that's being created by our panel, and ultimately our collective submission to the CDC.

"So we're very optimistic that we will be able to return to service. We're certainly better prepared today than we were yesterday, and we believe we will be better prepared for tomorrow."

Mr. Bailey summed up his comments with this statement, "It's time that the cruise industry returned to service and we're ready."

Royal Caribbean waiting to submit cruise restart plan

Mr. Bailey did clarify for the panel that Royal Caribbean had not yet submitted their plan for restarting cruises to the CDC. He said it would it submitted in the coming weeks.

"That plan has not been submitted to the CDC as of today. Our intention is to have that plan submitted in the coming weeks. And it corresponds with the request for information that the CDC opened up for public comment, which concludes on September the twenty first."

Ms. Sosa reiterated the need for the CDC to act quickly once the plan is submitted, and not to take a long time to respond, as they did in the spring.

"I'm going to speak from my heart. It's impossible to understand why they don't respond to at least work together to make sure that the last plan that is presented is the right one and to make sure that they don't do what they did before that they waited 14 weeks to respond to a plan."

Royal Caribbean Group CEO: "We may be within sight of the end"

In:
Category: 
08Sep2020

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke to travel partners in a new video, offering optimism and insight during the continued cruise shutdown.

Sporting a new haircut, Mr. Fain started out by saying he feels "more positive" that the end of this period of no cruises may finally be coming to an end.

"Today, I'm beginning to feel more positive that we may be within sight of the end," Mr. Fain stated. "We're certainly not at the end, and we certainly have quite a ways to go...ut the pace of change has accelerated. Many positive developments are really beginning to bear fruit."

Later in the video, he added, "We are in sight of the downward slope. Like everything about this disease, it's a rocky slope. But we're getting closer to the other side of this crisis every day, and I'm excited about that."

Mr. Fain emphasized that while the virus cannot be eliminated, the goal now is to "control the spread to a manageable limit". He sees three tools for achieving this: better treatments, better testing and a vaccine.

"It's important to remember that the vaccine won't be an instantaneous fix. However, when we look at all these things, all these developments holistically, they combine to give us a very good hope for a normal future relatively soon."

Healthy Sail Panel update

Mr. Fain touched on the work the Healthy Sail Panel is doing, which is a combined effort between the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Holdings.

Chaired by Governor Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the panel is working on coming up with policies and procedures for both cruise companies to employ to keep guests safe.

Mr. Fain characterized the work being done thus far as being "pleased", especially with the work being done by the panel members.

"They have been thorough, they have been focused, and they have been engaged. They've devoted an amazing amount of time and effort to the project, and I've been blown away by their commitment."

In an example of the work, Mr. Fain explained how the panel tackled how ventilation systems work on a cruise ship. 

The panel engaged experts in conducting testing. where they developed testing protocols, set up the equipment and evaluated the results over a few weeks.

In the end, the panel was able to provide a scientific answer to Royal Caribbean's HVAC system.

Australia extends its ban on cruise ships until December

In:
03Sep2020

Australia has extended its ban on cruise ships entering Australian waters until mid December.

The ban, which includes overseas travel, was announced on Thursday by Australia's Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

An emergency period of the Biosecurity Act of 2016 will be extended until December 17, 2020. It was previously set to expire on September 17.

The order encompasses restrictions on overseas travel, the entry of cruise ships into Australia, the supply and sale of certain essential goods and retail stores at international airports.

"The extension of the emergency period was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)," according to a statement from Mr. Hunt.

"The AHPPC has advised that the international and domestic COVID-19 situation continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk," he said.

The announcement by the Australian government follows Royal Caribbean's decision a week ago to cancel all of its cruises departing from Australia and New Zealand on or before October 31, 2020.

New Royal Caribbean health policies expected no earlier than end of September

In:
Category: 
01Sep2020

Royal Caribbean's new list of health recommendations for keeping guests and crew members safe onboard was expected by the end of August, but the new policies will not be released until some time after the CDC open comment period ends.

The Royal Caribbean Group assembled a blue ribbon panel of health experts, known as the Healthy Sail Panel, which are tasked with guiding Royal Caribbean with new recommendations on how to start cruising again safely.

When the Healthy Sail Panel was announced in early July, the timeline for the getting the first set of recommendations to Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings was by the end of August 2020.

"The panel hopes to provide initial recommendations to the cruise operators by the end of August."

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reached out to Royal Caribbean for clarification on when the new policies might be released, and a statement provided by Royal Caribbean International's Public Relations department said they are now waiting for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) open comment period to conclude.

“The Healthy Sail Panel is working diligently on recommendations for cruise health and safety. The CDC’s open comment period ends on September 21 and the panel is taking that additional time to do its work.”

In late July, the CDC began taking comments from the public that it says it will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.

The CDC has been steadily sharing comments it has received on its website that include a wide array of responses, ideas, and commentary.

Who is the Healthy Sail Panel?

The joint venture between Royal Caribbean and Norwegian has assembled health experts that come from many different backgrounds and experiences working with or for the U.S. government.

Serving at the head of the new panel will be Governor Mike Leavitt, former Secretary of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services (HHS), and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Nine other experts serve on the panel, with expertise in public health, biosecurity, epidemiology, hospitality and maritime operations.

The panel will work alongside Royal Caribbean's new Public Health & Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson, who will lead the company’s public health initiatives and oversee our response to health crises. 

Read more:All the health policies Royal Caribbean has confirmed or hinted once cruises resumes

New fast and easy COVID-19 test drives Royal Caribbean stock up

In:
28Aug2020

Royal Caribbean Group stockholders have seen a nice bump this week in the cruise giant stock price, thanks in part to good news of a new COVID-19 test.

Abbott Laboratories announced on Thursday a "fast, $5, 15-minute, easy-to-use COVID-19 test" that has resulted in a two-day rally for cruise line stocks.

Royal Caribbean Group ($RCL) closed on Friday up 5.30%, at a closing price of $70.13. Share prices have been rocketing up since Thursday morning's announcement.

Fast and cheap testing

On Wednesday, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Abbott for its BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card. 

The test costs $5, involves just a nasal swab, and results can be delivered in 15 minutes without any special equipment.

In addition to being cheap and fast, it is easy to use since the BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card works in concert with NAVICA, a new application for iPhone and Android devices that gives people with negative tests an encrypted digital health pass.

Theoretically, a cruise line like Royal Caribbean could insist guests take the test before admitted on a cruise by using the app.

According to Abbott, around 2.9% of patients taking the test receive a false negative when they're actually infected. About 1.5% of people who are not infected will receive a false positive. 

Abbott is manufacturing BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Cards at scale in two new U.S. facilities. The company will begin shipping the test cards in September and expects to deliver at a rate of 50 million tests per month by October. 

Testing part of the strategy

While full details have not yet been released, Royal Caribbean has said COVID-19 testing is likely to occur.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley recently commented that testing is going to be one aspect of the protocols to expect onboard.

"Testing is part of the thinking that we have not yet reached a point in our protocols where we're ready to publish and release for for discussion," Mr. Bailey started, "But it's very likely that testing will occur."

The winning combination

Taking into account Abbott's testing, along with a slew of new vaccine news, Wall Street seems to think the dual-pronged approach that addresses developing a vaccine as well as preventing infection is a good sign for the cruise lines.

A pair of new vaccine candidates from VBI Vaccines was also announced on Thursday, joining a field of other vaccines in various stages of testing.

In short, the more news about promising and effective testing and vaccines, the more positivity the market is showing cruise lines might get back to business sooner than later.

Note: Matt Hochberg has no position in any of the stocks mentioned, nor does he own any cruise line stock.

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