Sharing a ship with 130 cases: Can you avoid Covid on a cruise?

Cruise ships were the sites of some of the first major outbreaks of Covid-19 – and three years into the pandemic the virus is still spreading on board.

Ovation of the Seas arrived in New Zealand on Monday with 4,500 crew and passengers, including 129 passengers and two crew members with Covid-19.

Of course, the Covid-19 is also in the community. According to the latest data from the Ministry of Health, released on Tuesday, 16,399 new cases of Covid-19 were reported last week, a seven-day rolling average of 2,343.

But it’s across an entire country with a total area of ​​268,000 square kilometers. While Ovation of the Seas is a huge cruise, its hatching is contained in a space 348 meters long, 50 meters high and 41 meters wide.

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KEVIN STENT / Stuff

Ovation of the Seas is one of the first cruise ships to return to New Zealand since the start of Covid-19.

The whole design of the cruise experience – essentially being a floating resort, taking thousands of passengers from place to place – makes it an inherently high-risk setting for infection, experts say. .

“We always talk about the three Cs – confined, crowded, close contact – and that applies to the cruise experience,” said University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.

“It’s pretty relentless. You are in a huge indoor environment with a very large number of people – it is a high density situation. It has a lot of activities that involve a lot of people inside.

“I think it would be a higher risk experience than other vacation options.”

Co-lead of Covid-19 Modeling Aotearoa, Dr Emily Harvey, said that with a background Covid prevalence of 1%, we could estimate that on a plane with 300 passengers, the likelihood of someone getting infected was 78%.

But on a cruise ship of 4,000 people, the probability that at least one passenger will be infected at the start of the trip is close to 100%.

Confirmed transmission on planes has been mostly limited to a small number of people sitting close together, Harvey said.

“However, as we have seen in recent years, the longer duration and shared facilities on cruise ships means that small numbers of infected passengers have often led to large outbreaks.”

Japanese rescuers in protective gear exit the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Carl Court/Getty Images

Japanese rescuers in protective gear exit the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

What do cruise ships do?

Many major cruise lines have relaxed their Covid-19 requirements and no longer require passengers to provide proof of vaccination or a pre-boarding test unless required by a destination.

Cruise lines also have their own procedures for passengers who show symptoms or test positive for Covid-19 on board.

But as we’ve seen with Ovation of the Seas, they must also adhere to the destination’s isolation requirements. Royal Caribbean, the cruise operator, initially said positive cases should self-isolate in their staterooms for five days, and if still symptomatic they should self-isolate for another day or two.

Health authorities then told them that, while in New Zealand waters, Covid cases should be isolated for seven days, from the day their symptoms started or when they were tested. positive, in accordance with local rules.

Royal Caribbean said those sharing cabins with Covid cases must wear masks and undertake daily rapid antigen tests. This is similar to New Zealand’s rules for household contacts of Covid cases, who do not need to self-isolate but must test daily for five days. It is also recommended to wear a face mask during this time.

Is cruising a safe choice for you?

It is clear that if you go on a cruise, you are very likely to be exposed to Covid-19.

Whether you catch it or not will depend on your immunity. Short of wearing a high-quality mask at all times or spending the entire trip on deck outside on a cruise ship, there are a few steps you can take to mitigate this risk.

“You have limited control over your environment — you choose to be in a place that’s largely enclosed,” Baker said.

“They will have ventilation standards, but you just don’t know how good they are.”

As cruise passengers tend to be older, they would also be at higher risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. The average age of New Zealand cruise passengers in 2019 was 52, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

Older passengers are at higher risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19.

iStock

Older passengers are at higher risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19.

Baker said he hoped medical staff on cruise ships would have access to antiviral drugs, which would reduce the severity of the illness.

Travel medicine practitioner Dr Jenny Visser previously said Stuff trip anyone considering taking a cruise should consult their GP and discuss the risks involved.

“While it might be fine for a fit, healthy 25-year-old…it’s very different for a 75-year-old with high blood pressure and diabetes,” she said.

“The consequences of contracting the disease are so much greater.”

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