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Protocols, vaccination curb Delta variant on cruises, Fain says

PHOTO: SILVERSEA CRUISE_Richard_Fain_Silversea.jpg
Richard Fain acknowledged the Delta variant is problematic for everyone but 'even this is manageable with our extensive protocols'
Royal Caribbean Group management played down the impact of the Delta variant on bookings and said cruise protocols are stemming shipboard outbreaks.

During July, an average of 92% of travelers on the company's ships, excluding Quantum of the Seas in Singapore, were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This number is expected to rise going forward.

Only exceptions: Children under 12 and some Floridians

'We can ensure a level of vaccinations and testing that would be impossible for most other places to even contemplate,' Chairman and CEO Richard Fain told analysts on Wednesday's earnings call. All crew are fully vaccinated. For passengers, the only exceptions are children under 12 and, in Florida, a 'minor number of people choose not to get vaccinated.'

Like everywhere, the ships are seeing breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated travelers, but Fain said the virus isn't spreading.

Isolated cases, no outbreaks

'We all know it's impossible to eliminate cases on board a ship totally, just as it's impossible to eliminate cases on land,' he elaborated. 'But the steps we're taking are designed to prevent the isolated cases from becoming an outbreak. And it seems to be working.

'We have had people test positive. But, as almost everyone around them is vaccinated, they remained isolated cases. That's the goal. Where there are individual cases, no significant spread.

'Repeat this, with a few hundred thousand or a million passengers, and that creates the trust that will drive our resurgence.'

Fain noted that in most of Royal Caribbean's cases, even the cabinmate of the infected person has tested negative. He credited vaccines, 'the ultimate weapon, and they work.'

He acknowledged the Delta variant is problematic for everyone but 'even this is manageable with our extensive protocols.'

Protocols strengthened to address Delta

Due to the Delta variant, Royal Caribbean International recently strengtheneed its protocols, with even more testing and even more people vaccinated people carried.

For example, currently on cruises of five nights or longer from the US, all passengers 2 and older — regardless of vaccination status — need to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within three days before embarkation. On cruises of fewer than five nights, proof of vaccination will exempt people from this testing. On cruises of six nights or longer, unvaccinated travelers 12 and older will have to undergo additional mid-cruise antigen testing.

USVI blocks ships with unvaccinated adults

In another change, with the US Virgin Islands' new requirement that all cruisers 12 and older be fully vaccinated in order for the ship to be allowed entry into St. Thomas, Allure of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas departures starting Aug. 8 will require everyone 12 and older to provide documentation of vaccination at the terminal as a condition for boarding.

How this squares with Florida law banning such documentation isn't spelled out. 

From cause of concern to exemplar

Fain said the success of controlling COVID-19 on board is restoring cruising's credibility, with research showing that cruise consideration remains high among active cruisers and is steadily increasing among those non-cruisers.

'We have gone from cruises being a source of concern to cruises being an exemplar for how to deal with COVID-19,' he said.

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