During a press conference in Italy today, MSC Cruises’ CEO Gianni Onorato revealed the details of the company’s comprehensive health and safety protocol that has been developed to support the restart of operations in the Mediterranean, designed to protect the health and safety of guests and crew, as well as the local communities that the company’s ships will visit.
MSC Cruises has been working closely with the different authorities in the countries where the line’s ships will call, to develop a comprehensive protocol. A dedicated task force, with the input and support of leading external medical experts, developed a robust protocol with new MSC Cruises’ specific operating procedures that go beyond the actual regional and national guidelines and effectively set a new standard. Additionally, RINA, the independent maritime certification corporation, has verified that the protocol meets the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) Guidance, which incorporates additional health standards including those from the EU Healthy Gateways Joint Action.
MSC Cruises has developed comprehensive operating procedures that build upon already stringent health and safety measures that have long been in place on board the company’s ships. The new procedures include universal COVID-19 testing for all guests and crew prior to embarkation, protected ashore visits at each destination only with an MSC Cruises excursion as an added level of protection for guests and the introduction of a COVID Protection Plan for further peace of mind for guests. With all of these measures in place, MSC Cruises aims to offer guests the safest possible vacation.
MSC Cruises has worked to encompass every aspect of the guest’s journey from the moment of booking, embarkation and life on board through to disembarkation and the return home, while preserving the uniqueness of the guest experience.
Restart with Mediterranean Itineraries
MSC Cruises is preparing for a potential restart this summer in the Mediterranean which, in terms of the current development of the pandemic and its tourist attractions, is where the company’s guests would want ships to be deployed. While awaiting the necessary final approvals, two MSC Cruises’ ships are making preparations—flagship MSC Grandiosa and popular ship MSC Magnifica. MSC Grandiosa will offer 7-night cruises in the Western Mediterranean and MSC Magnifica will serve the East Mediterranean. Their actual departure dates will be determined in accordance with the guidelines received by the relevant authorities. The itineraries that are planned include Greece and Malta where the authorities have not only re-opened their ports to cruising but also have approved the health and safety protocol to support MSC Cruises’ restart of operations.
For this initial phase of the restart of operations, the two MSC Cruises’ ships operating in the Mediterranean for the current summer season will initially only welcome guests who are residents in Schengen countries. Additionally, their itineraries have been designed according to the accessibility of the ports, reducing—where possible—the need for guests to make use of public transport or flights, and have been planned in conjunction with the authorities.
Guests residing in countries who are unable to sail on the summer Mediterranean cruises will be contacted by MSC Cruises with options for their vacation plans.
In the U.S., MSC Cruises’ ships will only return to service once the necessary approvals have been received from the relevant local and national authorities, including the CDC, as well as across the regions where the ships will operate.
When asked during a press conference when he thinks cruising will resume in the U.S., Gianni Onorato, CEO, MSC Cruises replied, “We are at different levels in terms of the evolution of the pandemic between Europe and U.S. Obviously we hope that for our restart, the learning process that is necessary to happen, this can also be a contribution.”
MSC Cruises’ Health & Safety Operating Protocol
Having set up a cross-functional task force comprised of in-house experts in the areas of medical services, public health and sanitation, hotel services, HVAC and other shipboard engineering systems, information technology and logistics, MSC Cruises engaged leading global healthcare provider Aspen Medical to further assist with the development of the protocol and operating procedures. In addition, MSC Cruises has established a blue-ribbon COVID Expert Group—a panel of highly qualified and internationally respected experts to inform and review their initiatives and ensure that the actions taken are appropriate, effective and informed by the best available science and health practices.
Combining new data and research into COVID-19, an improved understanding of the virus, and how it behaves with the latest technology in screening and protecting people from possible contagion, the new operating protocol is designed to prevent and mitigate the risk of transmission during an MSC Cruises’ vacation. It includes the following pillars in terms of precautionary measures and response planning:
- Universal health screening of guests prior to embarkation that comprises three comprehensive steps: a temperature check, a health questionnaire, and a COVID-19 swab test. Depending on the screening results and according to the guest’s medical or travel history, a secondary health screening or testing will take place. Any guest who tests positive, displays symptoms or a temperature will be denied boarding. Following guidelines from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, guests traveling from countries categorized as high risk will be required to take a molecular RT-PCR test, to be done within 72 hours prior to boarding the ship. All crew members will be tested for COVID-19 prior to embarkation, as well as regularly during their contract.
- Elevated sanitation and cleaning measures supported by the introduction of new cleaning methods, the use of hospital-grade disinfectant products and the sanitation of the air on board with UV-C light technology that kills 99.97 percent of microbes.
- Social distancing will be enabled through the reduction of the overall capacity of guests on board, allowing for more space for guests, approximately 108 sq. ft. pp based on 70 percent overall capacity. Venue capacity will be reduced, activities will be modified to allow for smaller groups and guests will be able to pre-book services and activities to manage guest numbers. When social distancing is not possible, guests will be asked to wear a face mask, for instance in the elevators. Face masks will be provided daily to guests in their staterooms and will be available around the ship.
- Enhanced medical facilities and services with highly qualified trained staff, the necessary equipment to test, evaluate and treat suspected COVID-19 patients, and the availability of free treatment at the onboard Medical Center for any guest with symptoms. Dedicated isolation staterooms will be available to enable isolation of any suspected cases and close contacts.
- Ongoing health monitoring will be conducted throughout the cruise. Guests and crew will have their temperature checked daily either when they return from ashore or at dedicated stations around the ship to monitor the health status of every guest and crew member. During this initial phase of operations, as a further enhanced measure of protection, and to avoid risks to the health of guests and their fellow cruisers, guests will only go ashore as part of an organized MSC Cruises’ excursion. This means that MSC Cruises can protect their health while ashore with excursions that will be delivered with the same high standards of health and safety as on board. We will ensure that transfers are properly sanitized and that there is adequate space. Tour guides and drivers will also undergo health screening and will wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- A contingency response plan will be activated if a suspected case is identified, in close cooperation with the national health authorities. The suspected case and close contacts will follow isolation measures and may be disembarked according to local and national regulations.
From the moment a guest starts to plan and book to the moment they return home, MSC Cruises has assessed every touchpoint of their vacation to put in place the appropriate health and safety measures. Guests will be supported every step of the way with simple and practical information, clear booking conditions and supporting technology to make the process smooth and seamless.
“The most important reaction has been about universal testing, says Onorato. “The reaction has been extremely positive because people will feel much safer. And the second one is also that today not in every country, it is so easy to get the test done, so this is an opportunity to test themselves.”
MSC Cruises has introduced a new MSC COVID-19 Protection Plan to provide guests with additional peace of mind for the summer cruises. This will cover the guest if they become infected prior to their departure if they are not able to travel, during the cruise for medical expenses, and after the cruise if the guest falls sick. The MSC COVID-19 Protection Plan is currently available only to guests from Schengen countries. In addition to this, guests should also choose their usual travel and health insurance coverage.
A redesigned embarkation procedure with digital check-in processes has been implemented to make the process more seamless and contactless with arrival timeslots to manage guest flow. The health and safety measures in the cruise terminal will meet the same high standards as those on board. Guests will undergo a COVID-19 swab test, a temperature check and an in-person check of the health questionnaire to ensure that they are healthy and eligible to cruise. If further checks are needed, these will be carried out by medical staff and, if needed, a further COVID-19 test could be carried out.
Ashore, guests will be able to enjoy the different destinations the ships visit, but this will be only as part of an organized MSC Cruises excursion that will be delivered with the same high standards as the health and safety measures on board. By taking this decision the company is able to ensure that every aspect of the guest’s time ashore meets the appropriate standards of health and hygiene—from ensuring that transfers are properly sanitized, tour guides and drivers are wearing PPE and venues and sites to be visited are pre-screened through to ensuring there are reserved areas for MSC Cruises’ guests at attractions.
New Technology Facilitates a Contactless Experience
MSC Cruises’ health and safety measures are supported by industry-leading guest technology to facilitate a contactless experience and provide guests with important and relevant information as and when they need it.
For guests on board both ships, the MSC for Me app will support and facilitate the new health and safety measures. The app can be used to book services as well as to manage their daily activities on board and source information.
Additionally, on board MSC Grandiosa every guest and crew member will be provided with a complimentary MSC for Me wristband, which facilitates contactless transactions around the ship as well as providing contact and proximity tracing.
A new Information Center, accessible by telephone, will allow guests to call Guest Services for information, rather than having to go to the desk in person.
The Onboard Experience
Guests will continue to enjoy the experiences that have been central to an MSC Cruises’ vacation including award-winning shows in the theater, world-class dining, family activities, boutique shopping, engaging events and much more, but with some changes and adaptations to ensure that their health and safety is protected.
- Onboard activities and entertainment have been redesigned to enable smaller group sizes and guests should book in advance. A program of activities will be available throughout the cruise including themed events, fun games, talent shows, fitness, dance and more.
- Award-winning children activities and family live game shows will be available each day. New spaces on board will be reserved for children and teenagers as the youth areas will operate at a reduced capacity. Parents taking an excursion can still leave children with the youth staff by making a reservation one day in advance. Lunch and dinner with the youth staff will still take place along with the most popular kids’ activities such as MSC Dance Crew, Cabin 12006 family game show & web series and the LEGO experience.
- Wide choice of live entertainment will continued to be offered around the ship. As the capacity of the theater will be reduced to ensure responsible social distancing, the entertainment schedule will be adapted so all our guests can still enjoy a great variety of award-winning shows.
- Restaurants, bars and lounges, will allow for social distancing and all meals and drinks will be served to guests at their table. The buffet restaurant will offer a new service concept and a new guest flow to ensure social distancing. Instead of self-service, the guests will select what they want and the food will be plated and handed to them to take back to their table to ensure the highest level of health and hygiene measures are followed. For a contactless experience, guests will be able to access restaurant and bar menus from their personal mobile device by scanning a QR code.
Definitely the atmosphere will be there. The sense of relaxation with be there. And also the excitement for all the different activities that we have.
—Gianni Onorato, CEO MSC Cruises
Meet the COVID Expert Group
MSC Cruises’ blue-ribbon COVID Expert Group brings together the following highly qualified and internationally respected experts in the fields of medicine, public health, and/or related scientific disciplines:
- Professor Christakis Hadjichristodoulou, professor of hygiene and epidemiology at the Faculty of Medicine as well as its vice president, School of Health Sciences, University of Thessaly, Greece;
- Professor Stephan J. Harbarth, hospital epidemiologist, infectious diseases specialist and head of the antimicrobial stewardship program at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) and Faculty of Medicine; and
- Doctor Ian Norton, a specialist emergency physician with post graduate qualifications in surgery, international health and tropical medicine, currently managing director of Respond Global, formerly the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Medical Team Initiative program until January 2020.