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Vago urges G20 to embrace rapid testing, common protocols

'Thanks to our protocols and other similar ones, cruise ships could be considered possibly amongst the safest holidays anywhere in the world,' Pierfrancesco Vago said
The private sector should work with public authorities to embrace harmonized health protocols with rapid COVID-19 testing at their heart, MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago told G20 tourism ministers and global travel business leaders today.

Saudi Arabia hosted the G20 Summit in Riyadh this week. Saudi Arabia Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb and the World Travel & Tourism Council held the virtual Tourism Public-Private Sector Event to find new ways to support travel and tourism's recovery.

Vago told how MSC Cruises became the first big-ship line to restart Mediterranean sailings in August.

'We were able to restart thanks to the implementation of our comprehensive health and safety protocol, which received approval from all the relevant health authorities in our markets of operation,' he said.

MSC's protocol has nine key pillars: testing of guests, testing of crew, shore excursions as bubbles, ventilation, contingency response, isolation space on board and tracking and tracing, masks, distancing and COVID-19 prevalence monitoring.

Testing is key

'The core element of the protocol is our universal testing of all guests and crew before embarkation to create a sterile and safe bubble, which protects them throughout their time with us, Vago said, echoing remarks he delivered at the 'State of the Global Cruise Industry' keynote the day before at Seatrade Cruise Virtual, when he said: 'Vaccines won't be the magic wand. Vaccines will be part of the solution, but testing will be the solution.'

MSC has carried 16,000 travelers to date, with a second ship to start on a longer itinerary this month.

Denied boarding to more than 100 

'Throughout, we have been rigorous in the implementation of our protocol and have had to deny embarkation to well over 100 guests for testing positive, traveling with someone who tested positive not having the correct medical paperwork or for infractions of our protocol,' Vago said. 'Our data shows that in a pandemic where up to 80% of those infected in the current outbreak are mild or asymptomatic according to the latest [World Health Organization] data, there can be no doubt that testing is the key.'

Vago told the G20 that 'thanks to our protocols and other similar ones, cruise ships could be considered possibly amongst the safest holidays anywhere in the world, and there is no reason why other forms of travel and holiday cannot be as safe.'

He added: 'I hope that the data we have accrued, which I am sharing with you today, and the harmonization of protocols across the entire transport, hospitality and tourism industry can be the way forward to work with authorities around the world as testing becomes more available.'