By Martin Mowforth
Key words: cruise industry; Covid-19; Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Following the downgrading of the coronavirus pandemic in the public eye if not in reality, cruise companies are again beginning to consider Central American countries as a suitable destination for their tours. In July  Cruise Industry News reported that Costa Rica was planning to accept cruise ships at most of its ports providing cruise vessels “guarantee complete vaccination schedules against the COVID-19 virus in all crew members and 95 percent of passengers who are of age to be vaccinated.”
The aim is to reactivate the tourism industry and employment in selected coastal areas and ports. Each cruise passenger is said to spend an average of $137 (US dollars) per day which can re-energise a local economy. A number of cruise lines have included Costa Rica in their 2021 – 2022 cruise tours. In fact numerous major cruise lines have included Central American countries other than Costa Rica in their 2021 – 2022 scheduled tours.
Belize for example has begun to receive cruise tour groups. On the ground they have been received very willingly, although in August Breaking Belize News reported that the Carnival Vista cruise ship which was shortly due to call in at Belize had 26 confirmed cases of Covid-19 aboard. The infected crew members were said to be quarantined in their cabins but no reference was made to the tracing of their close contacts. The Carnival Line insisted that all its crew and almost all of its guests were vaccinated. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States described the ship as being under investigation, but gave no further details.
Earlier, in November 2020, the CDC had advised “all people” to avoid travelling on cruise ships during the coronavirus pandemic. The risk of contracting Covid-19 is generally considered to be very high on cruise ships. Although that advice was issued some months ago at the height of the second wave of the virus and that the vaccination coverage of wealthy populations is now extremely high, there is little doubt that the pandemic remains with us.
The CDC’s current advice on cruise travel (updated on 20th August, 2021) includes the following points.
- The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high.
- CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide.
- People with an increased risk of severe illness should also avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, regardless of vaccination status.
- People who decide to go on a cruise should get tested 1–3 days before their trip and 3–5 days after their trip, regardless of vaccination status.
- Along with testing, passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for 7 days after cruise travel, even if they test negative. If they do not get tested, they should self-quarantine for 10 days after cruise travel.
- People on cruise ships should wear a mask to keep their nose and mouth covered when in shared spaces.
When the 2022 cruise season gets into full swing, it will be interesting to monitor both the virus break-outs on board ships and the take-up rate of cruise packages. Given the environmental pollution, the appalling labour rights record and the displays of extreme human inequality that are represented by the cruise industry, it is a pity that the world has not taken advantage of the pandemic by banning all future cruises. As one tourism industry commentator has said, “Let’s not revive the cruise industry.”
- Alejandro Zúñiga, 5 July 2021, ‘Costa Rica to welcome back cruises in September’, Tico Times.
- Aaron Humes, 10 August 2021, ‘Carnival Vista bringing infected crew members to Belize on Wednesday’, Breaking Belize News.
- Cruise Industry News, 10 July 2021, ‘Cruise ships with vaccinated guests to return to Costa Rica from September’, Cruise Industry News.
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, United States government, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html