MSC Cruises has tightened up Covid measures on its new ship MSC Virtuosa after a visit by a port health officer in Southampton.
The official boarded the ship following complaints from some passengers who tested positive after sailing. The number of people affected has not been established.
According to one passenger, Eric Suth from Scotland, the ship was ‘a breeding ground for Covid’ because of the self-service buffet and a lack of social distancing. He said he was tested as soon as he disembarked and proved positive.
He wrote to Jo Hackwood, Southampton’s principal port health officer, who replied saying an official had boarded the vessel on Saturday, September 4, in response to the concerns to meet representatives of MSC Cruises, including the captain.
Afterwards, the cruise line agreed to increase testing of crew and passengers, improve sanitising in public areas, make more announcements on mask wearing, social distancing and hand-washing, and change the buffet back to one served by the crew.
Ms Hackwood told Mr Suth that crew had been instructed to approach passengers not wearing a mask in indoor spaces, except when eating and drinking, and added: ‘We understand the master has increased the frequency of announcements over the PA system this week.’
More crew would also be stationed at restaurant entrances to ensure passengers washed their hands. Ms Hackwood said: ‘Unfortunately not all members of the public practise good personal hygiene even when we are still dealing with a very infectious virus.’
MSC Cruises ‘will continue to keep the capacity of the ship to no more that 60 per cent of normal capacity to ensure they maintain appropriate social distancing’, she added.
I was on the first voyage of MSC Virtuosa in May, when Covid precautions were high and well observed – you can read my review here. I understand from passengers now on board that the protocols are again being enforced.
MSC Cruises was a leading line in the resumption of cruising, carrying more than 60,000 people from Italy on cruises beginning last August without major incident even before vaccines became widely available. Strict rules meant families were refused boarding if one of them tested positive, or not allowed back on board if they strayed away from official shore excursions.
In response to my queries this week, MSC Cruises released the following statement which has now been picked up by other media: ‘In connection with the current rise of Covid-19 cases in the UK, MSC Cruises has recently further strengthened its Health & Safety Protocol on board MSC Virtuosa during her UK sailings to manage the prevailing Covid-19 risks.
‘This has included additional testing of both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests and crew, which has allowed us to identify suspect Covid-19 cases at the terminal during the pre-embarkation process and on board the ship. All have been identified and effectively managed in line with the protocol and in cooperation with relevant UK health authorities.
‘This is yet another example of our protocol doing exactly what it was designed to do. The MSC Cruises Health & Safety Protocol is designed to keep our guests, crew and the communities our vessels call at safe, and its measures are sufficiently robust in the face of the current circumstances.’
In a statement released on September 10, in response to my inquiries, a spokesperson for Southampton City Council said: ‘Southampton Port Health Services has been involved with the MSC Virtuosa since she resumed cruising.
‘Any ship arriving into a Port Health Authority area is required to submit a Maritime Declaration of Health 12 hours in advance of arrival if there is any passenger or crew on board reporting symptoms of an infectious disease. MSC Virtuosa reported confirmed cases of Covid-19 on board as part of this declaration.
‘As a result, a Port Health Officer visited the vessel on September 4 and advised strengthening their controls on board. The ship cooperated fully, immediately implementing those suggested controls and was allowed to continue on its next planned cruise.
‘Southampton Port Health and Public Health England work very hard to assist in protecting public health both on board vessels and onwards into the local community.’