Seemingly overnight, a new word entered our national vocabulary — Omicron.
Since then, the news of the variant has been non-stop. Travel restrictions for many countries have been put in place. Stocks — especially those of travel companies like cruise lines — have been hit hard.
There’s a big question of how the variant will impact cruise ships. Obviously ships have been in the middle of the pandemic as they travel from port to port with passengers in close proximity of one another. Should the new variant prove to be more transmissible — or that vaccines are less effective — that could spell another hurdle for the industry.
Now Virgin Voyages is implementing a new protocol on its ships that comes in direct response to the new threat.
Currently masks are not required while sailing on Virgin ships. This is because the cruise line is one of several that requires all passengers be vaccinated. In a new change, however, passengers with recent travel to areas of Africa where cases of the Omicron variant are spiking must mask up indoors on the ship and have an additional Covid test:
With the recent CDC updates about travel restrictions from threats of the Omicron variant, Sailors who have traveled through the following regions within 14 days of their voyage (South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, and Eswantin) will be subject to extra precautionary measures on board, including mask wearing while indoors (not in their cabin), taking a COVID-19 test on day 3 of their voyage and reporting any symptoms to the medical center. If Sailors do not wish to follow these precautions, they will be offered a Future Voyage Credit to move their voyage.
This is in addition to the current vaccine requirement and testing done at the terminal before boarding the ship.
On the plus side, vaccine requirements and mandatory testing have helped keep cases relatively low on ships thus far. CDC data points to an average of about 12 cases per day across the dozens of ships it tracks and thousands of passengers and crew sailing.
Even so, the new variant brings new concerns.
More Changes for the Cruise Industry?
To be sure, this change from Virgin Voyages will likely impact few passengers on the cruise line, which currently sails a single ship from Miami. It’s seems doubtful that many passengers will have a recent travel history to that part of the world before boarding.
But it is a larger signal that changes could come to cruise ships in the face of rising concerns around Omicron.
In the early days of the pandemic, the first changes made were rules surrounding passengers from “hot spots” where the virus began spreading. For instance, passengers who had been to South Korea, Iran, China, and other countries during the start of the crisis were denied boarding on cruise ships industry-wide. Obviously, the virus spread well past those boundaries.
These new rules have a familiar feel in that they focus on travelers from certain locations while cases of Omicron are already popping up around the world.
That’s why even though this move is unlikely to affect many people in our opinion, we’d be surprised if it’s the last change we see as the industry looks to keep passengers healthy.