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Cruise ships 101: Industry plagued by pandemic outbreaks plots comeback


HALIFAX — It was an outbreak that captivated the world.

In early 2020 the gleaming Diamond Princess cruise ship became the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic outside of China.

As the ship was quarantined at a port near Tokyo, hundreds of passengers and crew became infected with COVID-19.

It was not an isolated incident, and Canadian officials soon banned cruise ships amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year and a half later, cruise lines are plotting their comeback, with some companies already setting sail — but a lot has changed.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on the cruise ship industry's return and what Canadians need to know.

The cruise ship industry in Canada:

Canada’s $4-billion cruise ship industry is a key part of the country’s domestic tourism sector. It employs roughly 30,000 people, both directly and indirectly, and brings about two million travellers to Canada a year. In 2019, more than 140 cruise ships stopped at a Canadian port. The Conference Board of Canada said in a 2018 report that about 958,930 Canadians were expected to take a cruise that year, a number that grew an average of 4.2 per cent a year between 2010 and 2017.

When do cruise ships start sailing again?

Transport Canada is set to lift the ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters on Nov. 1. However, cruise ships have already restarted operations in other parts of the world. Norwegian Cruise Line said its Norwegian Jade set sail from Athens, Greece, on Sunday after being docked for 500 days. Nonetheless, the government of Canada continues to recommend avoiding all travel on cruise ships until further notice, due to COVID-19.

When will Canadian ports begin to see cruise ships?

Although the ban will lift in November, Canadian ports aren’t expecting to see cruise ships until 2022. That’s because the cruise season for Canadian ports, including Victoria, B.C., Saint John, N.B. and Sydney, N.S., typically ends in October. Still, lifting the ban in November allows port cities to book ahead for next year. Port of Halifax spokesman Lane Farguson said the port has already secured 159 tentative bookings for cruise ships visits for 2022. Meanwhile, Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher said while the port does not have any bookings for 2021, it now has about 100 cruise ships booked for 2022. 

Do cruise ship passengers need to be full vaccinated? 

It depends. Most cruise lines are currently requiring all passengers to be vaccinated, with some exceptions. Norwegian Cruise Lines says all guests and crew are required to be 100 per cent fully vaccinated. All guests are also required to take a COVID-19 antigen test prior to boarding. It says these rules allow passengers to cruise mask-free, depending on local government regulations. Other cruise lines do not require COVID-19 tests for those who are fully vaccinated, but require tests for unvaccinated passengers, such as children. 

Are mix-and-match vaccines allowed?

Vaccine policies from cruise lines including Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises either don’t accept any mixing of vaccines at all or don’t accept the mixing of a viral vector vaccine with an mRNA vaccine, such as AstraZeneca with Moderna or Pfizer. 

Norwegian Cruise Lines, for example, says a mixed vaccination protocol will not be accepted for ships embarking or disembarking at U.S. ports. But ships departing from a non-U.S. port will accept mixed vaccines, including combinations of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna. Other cruise lines say mixed vaccines that are the same type, for example both mRNA, are accepted, but a mix of one mRNA and one viral vector vaccine are not. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2021.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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