The return of holidays at sea have been granted a major boost with the installation of a full-scale Covid-19 test facility on a cruise ship, in a development described by the operator as an “industry first”.
Viking Cruises, a Swiss-based cruise line with 79 ocean and river ships in its fleet, has installed the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) laboratory onboard Viking Star, a 930-passenger vessel that has been in service since 2015.
PCR tests are diagnostic tests to see if you currently have the virus (rather than antibody tests, which identify whether you have had the virus before). Viking plans to demonstrate the lab when the ship docks in Oslo, Norway, later this month.
According to the cruise line, the facility will undergo a series of extensive tests to “ensure the procedures and protocols that have been designed are fully effective”.
There will be enough capacity for every passenger and member of the crew to be tested each day, which Viking hopes will allow flexibility to respond appropriately depending on the prevalence of coronavirus around the world. The test is a non-invasive saliva swab.
“We have been working on this for a number of months, and today is important as it moves us one step closer to operating cruises again, without compromising the safety of our guests and crew,” said Matt Grimes, Viking’s vice-president of maritime operations for Viking.
“The recently announced CDC guidelines are clearly aligned with our public health research, and we welcome the agency’s push toward testing, as we believe this is the only way to safely operate. In our view, continuous PCR testing, along with our extensive onboard hygiene protocols, will lead to making Viking ships a safe place to get away to and explore the world.”
The Centers for Disease Control, a US federal health agency, last week released its “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” which gives details on the “phased approach for the safe and responsible resumption for passenger cruises”. Cruises have been banned in US waters since March.
It comes as major European countries have reintroduced tough lockdown measures to tackle a resurgence in Covid-19 cases. England will enter a nationwide lockdown on Thursday.
The latest restrictions have hampered the successful return of cruising across the continent, with many lines scrapping their remaining 2020 voyages. It has also meant further delays to the launch of Tui River Cruises, which has been moved to March 2021 – a full year after it was due to take to the water.