A cruise guest aboard the MSC Grandiosa tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, according to the Italian newspaper Giornale Di Sicilia (GPS). The case was widely reported in the Italian press whereas the U.S. media has not yet commented on the story.

The MSC cruise ship left Genoa last Sunday on a seven-day cruise. The passenger who tested positive for the virus was isolated, as was his wife who tested negative. The close contacts of the couple were promptly traced, who were in turn isolated and tested. The newspaper indicates that the contacts tests were negative and remain on board in isolation.

The established protocols state that when there is a positive case of COVID-19, like this, the person(s) must be transferred to a facility ashore with whom the cruise line has made housing and medical arrangements before the cruise. In this case, MSC had made arrangements with facilities in Palermo, Italy. So the cruise made a “short technical call” on the port of Palermo to transfer the guest and his wife to one of the facilities that the Company has reserved. The GPS newspaper reports that the two guests disembarked this morning.

MSC’s protocols require guests to be tested prior to the cruise and later during the cruise itself. In this case, the guest’s second test proved to be positive. It is less than clear exactly when tests are required to be taken before boarding the ship. Tests, of course, are not always accurate. There can be false-positives and false-negatives. It is possible that the guest’s first test was a false-negative or, if the test was taken several days before the cruise, the guest could have become infected in the subsequent days before the cruise or after the ship sailed.

The MSC protocols require crew members to be tested weekly.

The MSC Grandiosa will continue on with its regularly scheduled itinerary. MSC Cruises was the first company to leave Italy after the suspension in the Christmas holidays, with the ship departing on January 24th from Genoa. The ship performs week-long cruises in the Mediterranean with stops in Civitavecchia, Naples, Palermo and Malta. This is the fourth cruise of the year.

Last week, I communicated with a guest on the MSC Grandiosa who commented that the mask protocols, although reportedly well enforced on the ship, were very lax on the company sponsored excursion. He posted a photo on Twitter which showed only three of eight passengers wearing masks.

The Italian Ministry of Health confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 on the MSC Grandiosa last October. We also reported last Fall that performers (dancers and singers) were crowded on stage together in an internal club on the same ship. Guests were also filmed crowded together drinking and dancing in front of a band on the pool deck of the ship. Some of the guests were wearing masks, but many were clearly not. There was no semblance of social distancing in the videos shown of the deck party.

Many travelers who are not inclined to follow the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the U.S. State Department’s warnings against non-essential travel (in general) and travel by cruise ship (in particular), often point to cruising from Europe as a safe alternative. I have two responses to that proposition.

Firstly, there have been over 200 passengers and crew members who tested positive for COVID-19 during European sailings since cruising was suspended from U.S. ports last year. The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships. (You can see a partial list here). The last outbreak occurred on the Mein Schiff 2 ship operated by the TUI Group just last week.

Secondly, there is a reason why the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and other countries in Europe are prohibiting recreational cruises. Non-essential travel and travel by cruise ship exacerbates the spread of COVID-19. Congregating in bars, restaurants, and night clubs on crowed cruise ships over the course of a week is a good way to become infected and spread the virus back to the residents of the home-ports of the cruise ships and home communities of the infected guests.

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Image credits: MSC Grandiosa – By kees torn – Vertrek, CC BY-SA 2.0 commons / wikimedia; screen grab – Cruise Passion