More cruise lines looking at mandatory rapid covid testing, raising key questions

An increasing number of cruise lines are considering rapid COVID-19 testing as part of a basket of enhanced health and safety protocols for the resumption of cruising, but key questions for passengers remain unanswered.

In a recent earnings call, Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, the second-largest cruise company in the world, suggested that rapid testing would be a major factor for the resumption of cruises, particularly in the Caribbean, the primary cruise destination for the North American market.

A growing number of Caribbean destinations, such as Barbados, require a Covid-19 test before arrival

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“Particularly as it relates to the Caribbean…testing is very much at the front of how people are thinking of protocols for returning,” Bayley said.

Already the Indian cruise line Jalesh Cruises has implemented rapid testing for passengers ahead of boarding for its return to service, as has MSC Cruises which returned to service in Italy, while the UAE has made it a primary means of countering the spread of the virus.

The UAE, like a number of Caribbean nations, including Barbados, Turks & Caicos, and Dominica, requires COVID-19 negative testing (either rapid, molecular or PCR) prior to arrival. It’s therefore likely to be part of the requirements for a return to cruising as well.

Rapid testing provides results in less than an hour, whereas swab tests can take 24 to 72 hours, providing too great a lag time in which a contagious passengers can spread the virus onboard.

A drive-through rapid covid testing facility has been opened at Dubai’s Mina Rashid cruise port.

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However, the potential implementation of the new measure industry-wide has raised key questions for passengers, from who will pay for it (Jalesh Cruises is offering it as part of the cruise fare), to the logistics of how it will be carried out and the impact it might have on the boarding process.

The prospect of being forced to sit with several hundred passengers in a cruise terminal while they await test results (anyone of whom might be carrying the virus) is unlikely to fill potential passengers with confidence.

Questions remain over how the tests will be administered in crowded cruise terminals

If the test results come back positive for a passenger, will they be denied boarding along with the rest of their party? If so, will cruise lines offer a refund or cruise credit? Wasted flights and vacation days are unlikely to be compensated, creating additional financial risk that travel insurance wont cover.

Rapid testing can therefore be a viable extra layer of protection for the resumption of cruises, but is likely to only prove feasible for limited cruise operations, where passengers are sourced from the domestic market within driving distance of departure ports.

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