In an industry first, LGBTQ+-friendly cruise company Viking has installed the first full-scale polymerase chain reaction laboratory at sea. The new onboard facility gives the cruise ship unprecedented testing capacity, enabling it to conduct PCR testing for of all crew members and guests with a noninvasive saliva test. The laboratory has enough capacity for daily testing of every crew member and guest.
Premiering on the Viking Star (pictured above on its coronation day in Bergen, Norway), the company’s award-winning 930-guest ocean vessel; the floating laboratory will undergo a series of extensive tests to ensure the procedures and protocols are fully effective.
“We have been working on this for a number of months,” Matt Grimes, vice president of maritime operations for Viking said in a written statemen, describing the lab as moving the company “one step closer to operating cruises again, without compromising the safety of our guests and crew.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced directives for a phased plan to allow cruise ships to sail again. Their guidelines call for all ships to have laboratory capacities to test passengers and crew. So while Viking is the first to have complied, other cruise companies will undoubtably follow suit.
Grimes called the new CDC guidelines “clearly aligned with our public health research, and we welcome the agency’s push toward testing, as we believe this is the only way to safely operate. In our view, continuous PCR testing, along with our extensive onboard hygiene protocols, will lead to making Viking ships a safe place to get away to and explore the world.” Viking Star sails to Oslo, Norway in mid-November, where it will demonstrate the lab and new operating procedures.
Earlier this fall, Cruise Lines International Association, an organization which represents 95 percent of the global ocean-going cruise market, released new guidelines, which include testing of all passengers and crew members on all ships carrying 250 people or more, with a negative test being required for embarkation.
“We see testing as an important initial step to a multi-layered approach that we believe validates the industry’s commitment to making health, safety, and the well-being of passengers, the crews, and the communities we visit our top priority, ” the agency noted. “A critical next step, now that initial sailing has begun effectively with strict protocols in Europe, is the resumption of operations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America (the Americas), which encompass the largest cruise market in the world.”
The guidelines require:
- Testing. 100% testing of passengers and crew prior to embarkation.
- Mask-Wearing. Mandatory wearing of masks by all passengers and crew onboard and during excursions whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Distancing. Physical distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions
- Ventilation. Air management and ventilation strategies to increase fresh air onboard and, where feasible, using enhanced filters and other technologies to mitigate risk
- Medical Capability: Risk based response plans tailored for each ship to manage medical needs, dedicated cabin capacity allocated for isolation and other operational measures, and advance arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities, and transportation.
- Shore Excursions: Only permit shore excursions according to the cruise operators’ prescribed protocols, with strict adherence required of all passengers and denial of re-boarding for any passengers that do not comply.