On the same day the European Union announced that Americans would be barred from entering member states due to the U.S. coronavirus surge, the EU also released guidelines for the resumption of cruises in Europe.
In a lengthy document, the bloc's Healthy Gateways program recommends numerous regulations for lowering the risks of Covid-19 infection among cruise passengers and crew members, from pre-boarding to disembarkation.
Note that these are guidelines, not legal requirements—but the EU's opinions do carry weight, and the same government body would be in charge of allowing cruise ships to call at the continent's ports.
Among the most noteworthy suggestions is a call for ships to be "organized according to age group, so that older individuals are separated from other age groups." That measure, which is similar to what EU member Spain has done this summer on beaches, would be enacted as a way of protecting those at high risk (such as people over age 65) from developing severe cases of the virus.
The guidance advises dividing groups further into small "cohorts" with set crew members and schedules for dining and activities. That way, passengers would only interact with members of the same cohort, rather than sharing germs with the whole ship. It would sort of be like how the students in high school honors classes never see the kids from the remedial courses until graduation day.
The EU's document recommends that as cruising returns, lines "initially consider using itineraries of a short duration (e.g. 3 to 7 days) and to perhaps limit the number of port visits."
Under a heading labeled "Essential Prerequisites," the guidance states that cruise lines must devise written contingency plans to manage Covid-19 outbreaks on ships, establishing protocols for medical treatment, repatriation, and quarantine facilities on shore for infected or exposed passengers and crew.
The EU would also like for cruise lines to require a Covid-19 test and health screening before any passenger is permitted to board.
Guidelines for life on the ship include mandatory masks on passengers and crew in public areas, "enhanced cleaning and disinfection" measures (more hand sanitizer, longer gaps between cabin occupancies) as well as physical distancing wherever possible, with an increased reliance on outdoor spaces and the installation of plastic barriers between guests at bars and restaurants.
Say goodbye to anything self-serve (minibars, buffets) or reusable (magazines, salt shakers). The document also nixes indoor swimming pools—available in some ships' spas or premium areas—due to a lack of proper ventilation.
As on ships, shore excursions would need to follow protocols for keeping participants masked, distanced, and hand-sanitized.
The EU's recommendations have the support of the global industry group Cruise Lines International Association, which called the guidance, according to Travel Weekly, "an important marker in the possible resumption of cruising in Europe"—whenever that may begin.
As for the resumption of cruising from the United States, that won't happen until September 15 at the earliest. Industry giants Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have assembled a blue-ribbon panel of public health experts to put together a comprehensive plan of their own for cruising safely during the pandemic. That plan will affect whether international ports agree to accept U.S.-based ships again.