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Royal Caribbean signs up 100,000 volunteers for COVID-19 safety ‘test cruises’


At least one hundred thousand people have volunteered for a Royal Caribbean ‘test voyage’ just three days after the company announced the plans for trial cruises to prove passengers are safe from coronavirus spread.

The major cruise liner launched a ‘Volunteers of the Sea’ Facebook group on November 12 to gauge interest in returning to the waters, which has since gathered almost 48,000 members.

COO Michael Bayley claims they have also received communication from thousands more with cruise fans eager to sign up through the company’s online form. He said the number had reached 100,000 by November 15. 

It comes as the Centers of Disease Control pushes the major cruise companies to test out new regulations and practices that will combat high infection rates from COVID-10 onboard, after ships became the first major hotspots early in the pandemic.

It got off to an unfortunate start, however, as last week, the first cruise ship to set sail in the Caribbean since the start of the pandemic reported five infections only a few days into the voyage. 

Ten of thousands of Royal Caribbean fans have signed up as volunteers as the company plans trial cruises to prove passengers are safe from coronavirus. Pictured, Oasis of the Sea

Royal Caribbean COO Michael Bayley claims 100,00 volunteers have registered

Last month, the CDC issued new guidelines for cruise companies which will allow them to prepare to get back on the seas for the first time since a no-sail ban was put in place in March.

The guidance laid out ways in which the companies can begin to sail again through testing and increased safety measures, which included the running of trial cruises to assess their ability to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Royal Caribbean welcomed the news stating that it had ‘a lot to do between now and then, and we’re committed to taking the time to do things right’.

It announced earlier this month that it would be carrying out test voyages as it looks to implement these new protocols, launching the sign-up form and the Facebook group.

‘We are going to be doing a series of sailings using our employees and other volunteers to test out the protocols and make modifications,’ Vicky Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, told Cruise Industry News

‘As many know from reading the CDC conditional sale order, we will be operating trial sailings with volunteer guests,’ wrote Bayley on November 12.

‘It has been so gratifying to receive literally thousands of emails and calls offering to volunteer. To make things easier and keep everyone up to speed, we’ve set up a Volunteers of the Seas group!’

The demand was instant, with Bayley returning to Facebook three days later to write: ‘And just like that…100,000 people have volunteered. We can’t wait to start this next phase with you all!’

Royal Caribbean COO Michael Bayley welcomed the new CDC guidance

Bayley also announced the new Facebook group looking for volunteers for the trial cruises 

While some may criticize the volunteers for putting themselves forward, their aid is needed by the companies if cruises are to restart.

‘This test period is going to be really crucial for them as they test out the protocols and what that’s going to look like,’ Colleen McDonald, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, told Good Morning America

‘In order to return to some kind of normalcy, I think we all have to do our part,’ added one of the volunteers, Selina Davis.  

There is no information yet available on when the test cruises will be launching or where they will travel to.

Last week, Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, announced that its members were voluntarily suspending U.S. cruise operations through December 31.

Other cruise lines have also canceled their sailings through the rest of the year.

The Royal Caribbean volunteers’ Facebook group has already amassed almost 48k members

According to Cruise Line News, the first cruises next year may be short trips to CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, which will allow for a bubble-like experience to mitigate spread.  

It is also not known how many volunteers will be needed or taken on board as the company works simply to gather information.

Those who volunteer, however, are required to provide a medical certificate and show they are older than 18.

They will experience the cruise from start to finish, including check in onboard activities, dining, entertainment and stopping at a private island, according to Good Morning America. 

Yet if someone on board tests positive, or shows symptoms, they may have to quarantine, or to be transferred to a special isolation room. 

Volunteers will also have to be tested several times, including a test before they embark.

And the CDC requires that check-in, embarkation, and COVID-19 quarantine drills be run in addition to standard muster drills.

Royal Caribbean has not yet confirmed details on whether the trial cruise will be free or if volunteers will be expected to pay.

‘We have a lot of details to work out to make sure everyone’s experience onboard is as safe and as enjoyable as we can make it,’ a Royal Caribbean spokesperson told Fox.

‘So, while we currently have no dates to announce yet we are excited about the interest we have received so far — we can’t wait to finally welcome our guests back on board.’ 

Pictured a Royal Caribbean ship. There are no details as to when the trial cruises will begin

If someone on board the trial Royal Caribbean cruise tests positive, or shows symptoms, they may have to quarantine, or to be transferred to a special isolation room

A medical team meeting a cruise ship in March after a coronavirus outbreak onboard

The CDC says volunteers must acknowledge in writing that they’re putting themselves at risk of contracting the virus if they take part. 

‘This is definitely not a zero-risk prospect and I would urge anyone who’s elderly or has chronic medical conditions to really think twice before volunteering to do this,’ explained Dr. Todd Ellerin, Director of Infectious Disease at South Shore Health. 

Yet the company remains optimistic and welcomes the large surge of volunteers.

‘Royal Caribbean has some of the most loyal guests in the cruise industry, and we have been overjoyed with their interest to take part in our simulated trial sailings,’ said the spokeperson. 

‘This week alone, we have received more than 5,000 emails, not including the tweets, comments and messages across social media.’

Royal Caribbean continues to take caution as it makes its next steps, as the threat of outbreak on cruise liners was exposed once more last week on SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream I.

The first infection was reported on the ship on November 12, jumping to five within a day.

Many aboard were travel writers and bloggers invited to review the voyage which was intended to inspire confidence in the ability of the cruise industry to keep passengers safe amid the ongoing pandemic.

But they are now documenting unfolding events on the luxury ship and sharing photos from the confinement of their cabins.

The ship’s 53 passengers – 37 Americans and 16 others from the UK, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany – as well as non-essential crew are quarantining in their cabins after the cruise was halted and the ship returned to dock in Barbados.

Those on board had been required to undergo a ‘gauntlet’ of tests ahead of the cruise to create a ‘COVID-free bubble’ and it is not yet clear how coronavirus came to be on the vessel.

Guests have been tested for the virus by both the ship’s doctor and authorities in Barbados since returning.

Five people aboard the SeaDream 1 have tested positive for COVID-19, just one day after the liner’s first case was announced. It was the first Caribbean cruise to set sail since March

Any potential outbreak would mark another blow for cruise ship industry which was among the worst hit by after several coronavirus outbreaks were reported across multiple liners earlier this year, some of which were required to keep their passengers quarantined aboard for weeks.

Perhaps the most famous case is that of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan from February 5 to February 19.

One sick passenger eventually led to nearly 700 infections and seven deaths from COVID-19.

The rapid spread of the virus prompted the CDC and Prevention (CDC) to impose a no-sail order on US cruises in mid-March for 30 days.

The ban was finally lifted late last month, with the agency issuing new guidance to help companies resume operations over the next several months.

It did not mean the CDC was allowing cruises in the US to resume as the country faces a third wave of infections.

It would instead serve as framework that will allow the cruise industry to restart operations in phases along with an implementation of safety measures.  

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