MSC Cruises on Wednesday confirmed that its South African cruise season out of Durban would go ahead as planned amid the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but also announced that vaccination would be mandatory.
The decision by MSC Cruises to implement a vaccine mandate for its roundtrip cruises out of Durban during the 2021/22 cruise season got a negative response from the South African cruising public.
MSC Cruises confirmed the vaccine mandate in a statement released on the website of their South African subsidiary MSC Cruises SA. In addition to the mandatory vaccine requirement, all guests will also need to take a PCR test before their scheduled embarkation date.
“The measures have been put in place in light of the evolution of the pandemic ashore, including the new Omicron variant, and with the wellbeing of the cruise line’s guests as its number one priority,” the statement read.
This update to MSC Cruises health and safety protocols came after the cruise line in October last year announced that it would allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers to board.
At the time, however, the cruise line indicated that this was subject to change depending on possible new health measures made by the South African government, as well as the evolution of the pandemic.
The introduction of a vaccine mandate in South Africa follows MSC Cruises’ decision to make vaccines mandatory in all regions in which its fleet is currently sailing.
“Our health and safety protocol has led the way in the industry not just because we were the first major cruise line to resume international operations in summer 2020, but also because of its flexibility to adapt to the evolution of the pandemic ashore,” said Ross Volk, Managing Director of MSC Cruises SA.
“South Africa is currently seeing an increase in infection rates ashore and to ensure the wellbeing of those on board our ship and at the communities we call, our preventative measures again demonstrates that health and safety is our number one priority,” he added.
MSC Cruises SA took to Facebook to make the new health and safety measures known to the South African cruising public, and the response has been intense.
The responses to the news have been overwhelmingly negative:
“MSC I hope you have a backup plan because you are going to lose millions because of this,”
“We want our money back, then. Thanks for nothing…”
“Why offer an unvaccinated option and then cancel last minute. An absolute disgrace.”
“I will be requesting a refund. I will not be forced to be vaccinated.”
“When we booked, you said unvaccinated guests were welcome and no such rules were in place. We will be demanding a full refund! Furthermore, we will boycott you going forward.”
It should be noted that MSC Cruises is offering a voucher for a future cruise at a later date for those passengers who will not be able to get vaccinated in time.
It also appears that some prospective passengers have misunderstood the purpose of vaccination, which does not eliminate the risk of catching COVID-19, but reduces the severity of the illness in the event that one does contract it.
In that way, wide spread vaccination against COVID-19 is intended to protect the national health system against being overwhelmed, and enables normal economic activity to resume.
MSC Cruises joins several major cruise lines globally in making vaccines mandatory fleetwide.
Other health and safety measures the cruise line will be implementing during its Durban cruise season include PCR testing 72 hours before embarkation for all passengers 2 years and older, as well as an antigen lateral flow test at the embarkation port at a cost of R300 per person for guests between the ages of 2 and 11 (as these ages do not require vaccination).
MSC Cruises will also require all guests to have an insurance policy that covers COVID-19 related risks, including cancellation, repatriation and medical expenses.
The cruise line is offering the MSC COVID-19 Protection Plan as an add-on to passengers’ cruise fare, although third-party travel insurance will also be accepted.
Full guide to the new vaccine mandate:
All guests who are 12 years old and above must be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, including Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson.
Guests will be considered vaccinated if they have received the full set of COVID-19 shots more than 14 days before the start of their cruise.
Guests between the ages of 12 and 17 years will be considered fully vaccinated if they have received one dose of an accredited vaccine, which is in line with government regulations.
Unvaccinated guests aged between 2 and 11 who accompany vaccinated guests will have to undergo an antigen lateral flow test at the embarkation port at a cost of R300 per person.