Face masks, COVID-19 screening: EU issues guidelines for return to cruising amid pandemic

Morgan Hines
Cruise ship off Santorini.

The European Union has said its piece about how cruising should look when it starts back up again – at least for the time being.

On Tuesday, the EU released 49 pages worth of interim guidance for the cruise industry to adhere as cruising begins to resume, the same day it announced Americans would be barred from entering.

The EU's Healthy Gateways program, which provides ground rules on public health for member countries' borders, ports and airports, stressed that reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection should be the cruise lines' should be top of mind from the booking process all the way through to the time passengers and crew members return home. 

Accordingly, the document listed prerequisites such as contingency plans for onboard outbreaks as well as testing and reporting cases. It also offered recommendations for crafting exclusion policies to keep infected people from boarding ships, pre-boarding health checks. The guidelines also covered social-distancing policies, crew training, hygiene – including the use of face masks – and food safety.

On Wednesday, global industry leader Cruise Lines International Association issued a statement expressing their support for the EU's interim guidelines Wednesday. 

"The primary concern of CLIA and its member lines is the health and safety of its passengers and crew," Tom Boardley, secretary-general of CLIA Europe, said in the statement. "This guidance from the public health authorities in Europe provides a useful resource for cruise lines as they prepare to resume operations.”

Additionally, the new guidelines are an "important marker" for the potential resumption of cruising in Europe, CLIA said in the release.

Essential prerequisites set forth by the EU include: 

  •  The monitoring of the epidemiological situation worldwide – prior and while cruising – including evolving rules and restrictions
  • A written contingency plan or plan to manage any COVID-19 outbreaks onboard
  • Arrangements for necessary medical treatment
  • Arrangements for repatriation
  • Arrangements for the shoreside quarantine of any passenger or crew member who had close contact with an infected party who have tested negative
  • Arrangement for the shoreside quarantine of any passenger or crew member who tested positive and is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic after close contacted with an infected person
  • Adequate testing capacity onboard or pre-arranged with laboratories on shore
  • Proper training for crew members about COVID-19
  • A commitment to report any possible case to the next port of call immediately
  • Reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing standards to be implemented
  • Inspections from EU member states

Additional options to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include:

  • An exclusion policy  to stop symptomatic or exposed passengers from boarding, which must be included on the cruise line's website and should be required reading before booking
  • Special precautions to "high risk" groups – those over the age of 65 or with underlying conditions, such as visiting a doctor to assess fitness to travel, different group activities, etc

Measures to prepare for an outbreak onboard include:

  • A communication strategy for crew and passengers:
    • Training content for crew to recognize symptoms, procedures to follow such as physical distancing, personal protective equipment, etc. Crew well-being is to be prioritized and training should feature reminders that should crew members become symptomatic they should stop working.
    • Cruise lines and travel agencies should communicate with passengers about how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and inform them they may be refused boarding if they are symptomatic- information should be included in the ticketing process as well.
    • Communication about COVID-19 symptoms and how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and onboard practices to do so should be made frequent during and before the voyage on electronic message boards, etc.
  •  There should be a written contingency plan onboard including: Preventative measures, measures for response and management of a case onboard and the proper supplies and equipment on the ship in case of an outbreak.

Procedures ships should adopt include:

Health checks:

  • Pre-boarding screening: Including a primary screening and secondary screening for those who exhibit symptoms or signs
    • Pre-boarding COVID-19 laboratory testing of passengers could also be introduced but presents some limitations
  • Daily health monitoring of crew, including temperature checks, COVID-19 testing for all crew members already on ships and those incoming and periodic testing thereafter


  • Protection for vulnerable groups.
  • Limiting of interaction (could be accomplished by dividing passengers and crew into groups for activities like meals, etc.).
  • Physical distancing: Using the outdoors for gathering, putting up plastic barriers in bars and restaurants and markings on where passengers are and are not allowed to sit to enforce social distancing.  

Personal hygiene/PPE:

  • Personal hygiene practices: Frequent hand washing, sanitation station, proper waste disposal and more.
  • Face masks should be worn in cruise terminals by passengers and crew and in indoor spaces on board ships. 


  • Adequate ventilation.
  • Increased cleaning and disinfection in public areas and facilities.
  • During check in and check out cabins must be cleaned and aired out for at least one hour between voyages. Any shared multiple use items are encouraged to be removed.

Food safety:

  • Crew loading and storing food will be required to wear PPE.
  • Self service options, such as the buffet, are to be off limits, if possible, if impossible, new guidelines requiring physical distancing is to remain in place at all times.
  • Recommended to divide passengers and crew dining into groups
  • Passengers should wash, sanitize hands upon entrance and exit.
  • Salt and pepper and other non-disinfect-able items will be required to be disposable.
  • Tablecloths, towels and utensils must be washed, regardless of whether they were actually used.

The EU also provided guidelines for shared spaces including nursing and play areas for children, casinos, entertainment venues, hair salons, gyms and recreational water facilities such as pools and outdoor showers. The document did not recommend permitting indoor swimming but said it would consider allowing the use of such pools if the roof and walls could be removed to provide better ventilation.

It is also recommended that face-to-face contact be reduced and suggested that online registration and contactless payment be used to book event. Any face-to-face contact that cannot be physically distanced should be made safer by implementing a protective screen or barrier.

CLIA said its member lines are in the process of identifying appropriate protocol based on guidance from authorities and experts to protect passengers from the time of booking through their vacation and return home.

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Guidance for the return of cruising in the U.S. not yet been established

Guidance for the return of cruising in the United States has not yet been established. In June, CLIA announced its member cruise lines would voluntarily extended the suspension of U.S. cruise operations until Sept. 15 as the industry works to develop proper protocol to avoid any outbreaks.

"Although we had hoped that cruise activity in the U.S. could resume as soon as possible after that date, it is increasingly clear that more time will be needed to resolve barriers to resumption in the United States," Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director for strategic communications told USA TODAY, noting the organization informed the CDC of its continued voluntary suspension.

The extension came with a caveat: The suspension will be continually reevaluated as Sept. 15 approaches and may be extended further, Golin-Blaugrund said.

"We want the traveling public to know in no uncertain terms that when we do resume operations in the U.S., it will be with the confidence that we have the necessary protocols and systems in place, and that we have done so with the input of the CDC," she added.

The decision leaves nearly three months before major cruise companies, including cruising giant Carnival Corp., can ramp up their operations.

"CLIA cruise line members are using this time to explore new ideas and concepts to further enhance already stringent public health protocols and policies," Golin-Blaugrund said. "Additionally, caring for and repatriating crew members is the No. 1 priority for CLIA cruise line members right now."

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Specific plans for the coronavirus and general health onboard are still being developed. Golin-Blaugrund said the industry is taking a "holistic" approach.

"One theme that continues to emerge in these conversations is the concept of a 'door to door' strategy, beginning at the time of booking through the return of passengers to their homes," she said.

The industry also is looking to bolster screening protocol, implement additional health and sanitation practices for ships and terminals, and onboard prevention, surveillance and response. 

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