How many cruise passengers have caught COVID-19 aboard ships that have resumed service since the pandemic began? And is it safe to take a cruise yet? Here’s what the numbers say.
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The debate over whether it’s safe to resume cruising in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is almost as polarizing as the US debate on masks and vaccines.
The media and anti-cruise members of the public are against it, the cruise lines are obviously all for it, tourism officials are cautiously supportive of it, while the respected anti-cruise commentator Jim Walker of Cruise Law News insists many of the resumption plans likely won’t happen anyway.
This is because cruise lines are playing fast-and-loose when it comes to compliance with the Conditional Sailing Order, but are they doing the same when it comes to the number of cruise passengers that have contracted COVID-19 on a cruise since the pandemic shut down the cruise industry?
We’re not talking about the number of passengers that caught COVID-19 during the pandemic (throughout March and April before the cruise industry was shut down globally). We mean the number of passengers that have caught coronavirus since the industry began to reopen in Europe and Asia with renewed safely protocols in place.
Cruise lines that have resumed cruises
The European cruise lines were the first to go back to sea last year, with the Italian lines MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises, and the German lines AIDA Cruises and TUI Cruises all returning to service between July and September.
A number of COVID-19 surges in Italy and Germany later forced them to suspend operations again, before returning to service a second time in December.
In Asia meanwhile, Royal Caribbean has been sailing roundtrip from Singapore on cruises to nowhere since December, 2020. It was later joined by Dream Cruises, which also began sailing roundtrip from Taiwan in June last year.
Now, Royal Caribbean and Dream Cruises are also resuming cruises to nowhere from Hong Kong, while several US-based cruise lines are resuming cruises from Caribbean homeports and ramping up plans for a US restart.
Carnival Cruise Line is currently planning to resume US cruises with Carnival Horizon from Miami and Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze from Galveston, Texas, in July. Celebrity Cruises will resume US cruises in June with Celebrity Edge, Royal Caribbean will bring six ships back into service from the US from July onwards, while Norwegian Cruise Line has announced plans to resume cruises from five US ports.
MSC Cruises is the only non-US-based cruise line to have confirmed US restart plans as well, with MSC Meraviglia cruising from PortMiami to the Caribbean in September. The cruise line is currently awaiting approval to sail a test cruise on July 17th, 2021.
Passengers carried and COVID-19 cases reported
At the time of writing, only the Asian cruises from Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and the European cruises from Italy and Germany are actually underway.
Exact figures for the number of passengers carried haven’t been released by each cruise line, but according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), around 400,000 passengers had gone on a cruise between March, 2020 and April, 2021.
During that same time period, the CLIA estimates around 50 cases of COVID-19 have been reported (not including the two cases recently reported aboard MSC Seaside in the Mediterranean). It’s important to note that CLIA is trade organization representing 95% of the world’s cruise lines, so it may be eager to under-estimate the numbers.
However, it was transparent in pointing that it is not itself tracking COVID-19 cases on cruise ships, and that the 50 cases number was an estimate based on publicly available information. Another organization that has been meticulously tracking COVID-19 cases aboard cruise ships is Cruise Law News.
According to them, there have been more than 200 cases of COVID-19 since cruises began to resume following the global shutdown in March last year. Cruise Law News accuses the CLIA and cruise lines of “misrepresenting” the numbers, but their 200+ figure is a tally of crew and passenger cases of COVID-19.
With the majority of the world’s cruise fleet in hot lay up (with crew remaining onboard for service and maintenance), there are bound to be more crew cases of the virus than passengers. The exact degree of the discrepancy is difficult to determine given the lack of verifiable information.
So is it safe to resume cruising?
Even assuming that more than 200 passengers have caught COVID-19 aboard cruise ships since they began resuming operations last year (which is unlikely based on Cruise Law News’ reporting), that still represents a risk factor of only 0.0005%. So only half of a tenth of a percent of passengers have caught COVID-19.
To put that in context, when looking at the numbers themselves, if the global cruise industry were a country with the same population of the United States, a total of 175,000 cases would have been reported during the year. For comparison, the CDC is forecasting 18,000 to 131,000 cases of COVID-19 in the US during June alone.
If a little more than 200 passengers have caught COVID-19 aboard cruise ships since they began to resume operations last year, that would represent less than the number of people in the United Kingdom who die falling down stairs each year, or a little more than the number of Brits who accidentally drown annually.
At the end of the day, of course, determining whether its safe to go on a cruise post-pandemic is a personal choice, but in making that decision you should have all the facts available and keep the numbers in context.