Public health risks associated with Covid-19 can be mitigated on cruise ships by “relentlessly focusing” on prevention and other measures – including the testing of passengers and crew.

The recommendations to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) come from a joint Healthy Sail Panel of experts created by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

Each company will use the recommendations to help develop new, detailed operating protocols, which will be submitted to the CDC and other authorities around the globe for review and approval.

This is being touted as an “important milestone” in the process of resuming sailing around the world.

The 65-plus page report includes 74 detailed best practices to protect the public health and safety of guests, crew and the communities where cruise ships call.

Recommendations include testing, the use of face coverings, and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals.

It suggests five areas of focus every cruise operator should address to improve health and safety for guests and crew, and reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships:

  1. Testing, screening and exposure reduction
  2. Sanitation and ventilation
  3. Response, contingency planning and execution
  4. Destination and excursion planning
  5. Mitigating risks for crew members

In each category, the Healthy Sail Panel created practical and actionable recommendations to address specific safety concerns. Among the recommendations are key strategies such as:

  • Taking aggressive measures to prevent the virus from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation
  • Reducing transmission via air management strategies and enhanced sanitation practices
  • Implementing detailed plans to address positive infection on board, including contingencies for on board treatment, isolation and rapid evacuation and repatriation
  • Closely controlling shore excursions
  • Enhanced protection for crew members

Panel co-chair Dr Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, said: “The Healthy Sail Panel spent the last four months studying how to better protect the health and safety of guests and crew aboard cruise ships.

“Taken as a comprehensive approach, we believe the Panel’s robust public health recommendations will help inform strategies for a safe resumption of sailing.”

Fellow co-chair, former US health secretary Mike Leavitt, said: This Panel undertook an ambitious, cross-disciplinary, public health examination to develop standards and guidelines that create the highest level of safety in the complex environment of a cruise ship.

“We studied the industry’s experiences combating the pandemic – and we then incorporated the many lessons learned and advances made by medicine and science over the past six months. The Panel’s recommendations are grounded in the best scientific and medical information available and are intended to meaningfully mitigate public health risks to those who sail.”

Royal Caribbean Group chairman and chief executive Richard Fain said: “We understand our responsibility to act aggressively to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew, as well as the communities where we sail, and we asked the Panel to help us learn how to best live up to that responsibility.

“We were inspired by the depth of the Panel’s work and their determination to help us establish the strongest protocols in the travel industry.”

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and chief executive Frank del Rio said: “The Healthy Sail Panel’s recommendations are robust and comprehensive, and they reflect the intense focus the panellists brought to their work.

“We know that both authorities around the globe and consumers expect cruise lines to provide the safest, healthiest vacations we can, and this work demonstrates our commitment to doing just that.”