Cruise Ships' Recent COVID-19 Cases Might Actually Be Good News—Here's Why

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Yacht Cruise Ship Sea Ocean Tropical Scenic Concept
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Another attempted cruise ship restart, another round of passengers who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. It’s becoming a tale as old as time—or at least as long as we’ve been dealing with the current pandemic. Try as they might, it seems cruise ships can’t catch a break. No matter what they do, COVID finds a way on board.

Will we ever safely cruise again?

In the most recent bout of cruise doubt, this past Thursday, two passengers aboard the Celebrity Millennium tested positive for COVID-19. It was day five of the seven-day sailing from St. Maarten—the first sailing from the Caribbean in over a year. The passengers were asymptomatic, staying in the same stateroom, and, after testing positive, were promptly isolated from other passengers and crew.

As it turned out, Millennium wasn’t the only cruise ship last week to report positive COVID cases in passengers. While sailing in the Mediterranean, the MSC Seaside had two passengers fail their routine onboard COVID-19 tests. In this case, the passengers were also asymptomatic but were not traveling together. As a result, both passengers, and everyone in their associated parties, were isolated until disembarking the ship in Sicily.

At first glance, it sounds like the same old story, right? Cruise ship attempts to restart. Passengers test positive for COVID-19. Cruise industry takes another hit. We’re all left wondering if we’ll ever get our sea legs back.

The news seemed to go from bad to worse. Both ships had new COVID-19 protocols in place. In fact, Celebrity Millennium set sail as the first ship to require a fully-vaccinated crew and passengers, along with onboard testing. “All guests on Celebrity Millennium were required to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before sailing from St. Maarten this past Saturday,” Celebrity Cruises parent company Royal Caribbean Group said in a statement.

In other words, the two asymptomatic Millennium passengers were fully vaccinated and tested negative before boarding the ship. Then, after spending five days living their best pandemic cruise life, they tested positive during the ship’s required end-of-cruise COVID-19 testing protocol.

Vaccinations were not required to set sail on the MSC Seaside though it did implement several mandatory testing protocols. In order to board, passengers needed to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken between 48 to 96 hours before disembarkation, and test negative right before stepping on board. Then, midway through the sailing, they were to be tested again. That's when it became third time unlucky for the two aforementioned passengers.

Unlucky as this recent drama-at-sea may seem, these latest positive tests-at-sea could actually be the boon the cruise industry needs to pick up steam in its struggle to return to U.S. ports and waters—and beyond.

Look at it one way, and these two instances could signal a big failure—but, if you zoom out, they have actually provided a golden opportunity for cruise ships to prove to the watchful world that the newly-designed COVID-19 protocols do indeed work to mitigate and contain the spread of the virus. Both cruise lines have echoed this sentiment, with Royal Caribbean noting in a statement, “This situation demonstrates that our rigorous health and safety protocols work to protect our crew, guests, and the communities we visit.”

While time will only tell, so far, neither Celebrity nor MSC has reported additional positive test results from either sailing. We’re taking it as a good sign.

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