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Cruise ships leave behind COVID-19 rules

The cruise industry is still recovering from the pandemic, and just got a major boost from Australian health authorities. <i>Photo: Getty</i>

The cruise industry is still recovering from the pandemic, and just got a major boost from Australian health authorities. Photo: Getty

After being among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, the recovering cruise sector is waving goodbye to COVID-19 restrictions.

This week, New South Wales Premier Chris Minns formally removed the Eastern Seaboard and Western Australian cruise protocols.

Although Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have not made official announcements like NSW, COVID cruise protocols are expected to be lifted in these states too.

“WA supports removal of the cruise ship protocols, in line with the national guidance,” a WA Health spokesperson told TND.

“Cruise passengers are encouraged to stay up to date with COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations, and continue personal hygiene.”

A Queensland Health spokesperson similarly told TND the cruise sector no longer has to apply the protocols in the state.

“There are no COVID-19 specific requirements for the cruise sector in Queensland, but operators should continue their efforts to reduce transmission of communicable diseases including COVID-19,” they said.

As border restrictions have lifted, cruise-loving travellers have flocked back to ships.

Under the COVID-era cruise protocols – which were adopted by NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA – all passengers aged 12 years and over were required to be fully vaccinated, provide negative COVID test results before departure, and needed to wear a mask when embarking and disembarking.

The protocols were introduced in April 2022 as cruising resumed following a nationwide ban during the pandemic, after cruises proved to be COVID super-spreaders, with an outbreak aboard the Ruby Princess allegedly leading to 28 deaths.

“We need to get life back to normal,” Mr Minns said, after lifting the requirements.

“Cruise companies have been looking after their guests and workers and we encourage them to continue that. But this change is needed – we could not remain the only country with these rules for cruising.

“These protocols were important at the time to get the cruising industry going again after COVID. They were never meant to remain forever.”

Back to normal

The NSW Premier’s move comes after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) rescinded its Communicable Diseases Network Australia cruise guidelines on Friday.

The AHPPC, which is chaired by Australia’s chief medical officer and includes all state and territory chief health officers, found the wide availability and uptake of COVID vaccines and oral treatments meant the risks for the Australian population has reduced.

As a result, public health measures have shifted to managing COVID similarly to other common communicable diseases, including for the cruise industry.

COVID rules encouraged

Cruise staff and passengers are still encouraged to stay up to date with their COVID and flu vaccinations, and passengers are urged to stay in their cabin – and wear a mask if they need to leave it – if they have cold or flu symptoms.

Murdoch University professor of viral immunology Cassandra Berry said while Australia is learning to live with the virus, COVID is very much still present, so vigilance and regular COVID vaccinations are still encouraged.

“With cruise ships, often travellers are coming [after] flying in from all around the world to go on holidays,” Professor Berry said.

“Even if you’re updated with your vaccines and boosters, you can still get infected with coronavirus, so it is highly transmissible.

“If [you’re elderly] or you’re immuno-compromised, or you’re already infected with another respiratory virus, that can probably alter the disease progress.”

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