While cruises are often given a negative connotation when it comes to the health crisis — especially given the cases seen on ships at the start of the pandemic — one influential expert is taking a different tone.
During a quarterly business call for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Scott Gottlieb, MD, said he believed cruise ships can offer one of the safest options for vacationers.
Gottlieb is a former FDA commissioner, a CNBC contributor, serves on the board of Pfizer, and has been a leading voice during the pandemic. He is also the co-chairman of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Healthy Sail Panel. This panel was put together in partnership with Royal Caribbean Group to develop protocols to sail safely with passengers.
The co-chair joined Norwegian’s quarterly call to offer some insight into the health aspect of Norwegian’s return to sailing as the cruise line restarts trips from the United States on August 7.
“This Approach Mitigates the Risk to the Greatest Extent Possible”
Norwegian is notable as it requires 100% vaccination of passengers and crew on the ship. That’s something that Dr. Gottlieb said helps to reduce risk to the lowest level possible.
“All of the scientific and medical experts on our Sail Safe council fully support and recommend a fully vaccinated and tested population to relaunch cruising as it’s the most effective way to mitigate the introduction of spread of the virus onboard a cruise ship or anywhere else in society,” Gottlieb said.
“Even with vaccines, however, the risks can’t be fully mitigated. But this approach mitigates the risk to the greatest extent possible and significantly reduce the severity of any potential breakthrough cases.”
“It Can Offer One of the Safest Vacation Options”
Even with Delta cases rising and some lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean adding further testing and mask requirements, Gottlieb believes that Norwegian’s policies make the ship a safer spot to vacation compared to the rest of the travel industry.
“In the meantime, the vaccines are highly effective, even against the Delta variant, and Norwegian is taking the extra step of coupling vaccines with multiple additional layers of protection against COVID-19, including universal testing before boarding the ship.
“This goes well beyond what we’re seeing in other travel and hospitality sectors. And with the controlled environment a cruise ship provides, it can offer one of the safest vacation options.”
Control Is Key to Limiting Cases
That control is one of the biggest advantages cruise ships have in combating cases onboard. By requiring proof of vaccination, ships can ensure that everyone on the vessel has the shot. That’s simply not the case in most other environments, such as a visit to a land-based resort, attending a baseball game, or going on a flight.
As well, ships can require tests before boarding, adding another hurdle for cases to overcome that’s not seen in most other forms of recreation. Ships can also implement contact tracing and have the ability to quarantine positive cases if they are found on the ship.
Even so, while the risk can be reduced, it can’t be taken to zero.
The rise of the Delta variant and soaring cases in the United States has gained public attention. At the same time, ships currently sailing — even with the vast majority of passengers vaccinated — are seeing some virus cases. On that topic, Gottlieb gave his opinion that we may be close to a peak and the situation could improve soon.
“While the Delta variant is fueling the current rise in cases, if the U.K. is any guide, I believe we are perhaps further into this epidemic surge and will hopefully be turning a corner in the next several weeks,” he said. “In fact, some of the states hardest hit by the Delta surge in the South are already showing some indication that their epidemic waves could be starting to peak.”
There is some evidence that the delta wave is contracting in some of the early outbreak states in the south, with the Rt falling below 1.0; and in other states where the epidemic is still expanding, the rate of that expansion has slowed with the Rt declining. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/O60ABVIPnT
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) August 4, 2021
Obviously if cases were to fall on land, that would be beneficial to the task of keeping the virus off the ship. In the meantime, Gottlieb’s confidence in vaccines layered with testing and protocols are promising for the future of the industry.