A fully vaccinated cruise set sail in the Caribbean. Then two passengers tested positive for COVID-19

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When the Celebrity Millennium departed St Maarten on Saturday “with celebration and fanfare,” the cruise was hailed as a milestone both for the cruise line and the embattled North American cruise industry.

With sailings from the United States still paused, the voyage was seen as a way for Americans to return to a favourite holiday pastime at least relatively close to home. But despite a requirement that all passengers over 16 be vaccinated, the celebratory cruise couldn’t avoid the virus that shut down the industry 15 months ago.

The Celebrity Millennium, pictured on an earlier cruise in Alaska.

Two passengers who were sharing a room on the ship tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, two days before the cruise was scheduled to end. The results came as part of required end-of-cruise testing, Celebrity Cruises said in a statement on Thursday evening.

“The individuals are asymptomatic and currently in isolation and being monitored by our medical team,” the statement said. “We are conducting contact tracing, expediting testing for all close contacts and closely monitoring the situation.”

According to the statement, all guests on the ship were required to show that they were fully vaccinated and that they had a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of the cruise leaving St Maarten. Crew members are fully vaccinated, and the company says its protocols “exceed CDC guidelines to protect the health and safety of our guests”.

“This situation demonstrates that our rigorous health and safety protocols work to protect our crew, guests and the communities we visit,” the statement said.

According to a news release when the cruise started, the ship has reduced capacity to allow for people to space out more. Experiences on the ship and on land, safety drills and arrival and departure procedures have also been tweaked for COVID-era cruising.

Masks are not required on the ship, “in accordance with recent CDC guidance for sailings with vaccinated crew and guests,” the company said.

Celebrity did not provide any details on the vaccination background of the two people who tested positive. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, breakthrough cases are expected in a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated.

Cruise lines trying to restart in the US have turned to vaccine requirements to speed the process along. The CDC says that if at least 95 per cent of passengers and crew will be fully vaccinated on a ship, the cruise line does not need to conduct a test cruise to show it can mitigate the risk of COVID-19. There are fewer restrictions on board for vaccinated passengers as well.

Celebrity Cruises, which is based in Miami, got CDC approval last month to sail the first ship from the US with paying passengers on board. The company says vaccines will be required for everyone 16 and older on the cruise, which is scheduled to leave Fort Lauderdale on June 26. It’s not clear how that will square with a Florida law that says businesses can’t ask for proof of vaccination status.

Thursday’s positive tests on the Celebrity ship follow two earlier this week on an MSC cruise in the Mediterranean. In that case, two passengers who were not travelling together tested positive as part of a routine check midway through the cruise. They were asymptomatic and no one else in their groups or any close contacts tested positive, the cruise line said.

The passengers and their companions left the ship in Sicily and were taken home by company-provided transportation while the ship continued its planned schedule. MSC does not require passengers to be vaccinated.

The Washington Post

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