After a marked lull caused by increased numbers of passengers being affected with COVID-19 in the Omicron era, cruise ships on Friday, 14th, January started returning to Port Castries with the arrival of Norwegian Epic at Point Seraphine.
Local Health and Tourism authorities had quietly stepped-up daily monitoring of the health conditions of passengers on cruise ships bound for Saint Lucia and had instituted a mechanism for early flagging of those ships that posed a health risk to the island.
In the past week, several ships that were due to call into Saint Lucia were turned away as a result of a high incidence of passengers and crew being affected with COVID-19.
American cruise lines have had to call-off several cruises to the Caribbean and Latin American ports after cruise lines reported to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) that COVID-19 was creating havoc among passengers and crew.
The CDC has decided that following expiry of its ‘conditional sailing order’ on Saturday (January 15), it will allow cruise ships to opt for voluntary instead of mandatory compliance.
CDC had earlier raised its health notice level for cruise ships, warning all travelers to avoid cruising as the Omicron variant sent case numbers skyrocketing.
According to the CDC, cruise ships reported 14,803 COVID-19 cases between December 30 and January 12 — 95 times the 155 cases reported between December 1 and 14.
A reliable source close to the local tourism and health monitoring operations to keep sick ships at bay, told Saint Lucia News Online (SNO) that ships destined for Saint Lucia are required to submit a Maritime Declaration of Health, 24 hours ahead of the estimated time of arrival.
Ships are then allowed entry depending on the severity of the level of infections.
Several of the cruise lines operating in the Caribbean out of Florida and other US ports have themselves been forced to cut calls due to the pandemic rage on their ships.
The affected cruise lines – including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian – have also decided to each convert one ship into an emergency hospital ship, to which affected passengers and crew are ferried out at sea.
The CDC’s decision to allow cruise lines to voluntarily decide on how they handle COVID-19 matters outside US ports has received mixed responses in the Caribbean, but Saint Lucia’s Health Ministry and the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA) are taking no chances, demanding advanced Maritime Declarations of Health before ships are allowed to dock at Saint Lucian Ports.
Meanwhile, apart from the Norwegian Epic calling on January 14, at least two more ships are due on January 15 and 16, but, SNO’s sources say, whether they’ll berth or not will depend on their respective health declarations.