South Africa was all set for a resurgence of its cruise sector during the coming 2021/22 cruise season, but a new variant of COVID has officials on edge.
Ahead of the anticipated reopening of the South African cruise sector this December, officials have announced safety protocols to combat a new COVID variant dubbed B.1.1.529.
“Our ports are ready for the 2021/22 cruise season,” said Captain Sabelo Mdlalose, acting chief harbour master at Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA).
“We pride ourselves in our role of enabling the South African tourism industry, which has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. “This season will also see the official opening of a new cruise terminal at the Port of Durban.”
Mdlalose did not directly reference the new COVID variant that has put global markets and tourism officials on edge, but outlined a number of safety protocols cruise lines visiting South Africa would need to follow.
South African authorities have implemented strict operating protocols for all cruise lines cruising to and from the country.
Embarkation and disembarkation must be staggered at terminals to ensure social distancing and must comply with curfew restrictions. No visitors will be allowed to board any passenger ships whilst alongside.
All cruise ships will also need to ensure adequate medical infrastructure onboard.
“Infirmaries should be available 24/7 and fully equipped to deal with any COVID-19 infections onboard,” said Ayanda Mantshongo, TNPA executive manager of corporate affairs and external relations.
She added that cabins should be cleaned daily, and hand sanitiser dispensers must be available.
Mantshongo said that onboard entertainment and dining activities should be done in line with social distancing guidelines.
Foreign crew changes will be permitted at all eight commercial ports, and shore leave will be allowed for all crew in line with South African immigration and port health protocols.
All crew and passengers arriving at a port to join a vessel will be required to abide by the protocols and regulations issued by the Department of Health (Port Health), as well as Marine Notice 21-21(C) issued by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).
These protocols were announced amid the emergence of a new COVID variant in South Africa that is believed to be more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
The variant, dubbed B.1.1.529 by the World Health Organization, is very different to the others that have emerged so far, according to scientists.
it is the most heavily mutated version yet, which means vaccines, which were designed using the original strain from Wuhan, may not be as effective.
The variant emerged in South Africa’s Gauteng province and as a result, several countries have begun to introduce travel bans and enhanced quarantine measures for travellers from the country.
The UK, Singapore, Israel and Japan were the first to do so, while the EU is proposing to ban flights from Southern Africa across the whole bloc.