(12:05 p.m. EDT) -- Following the implementation of new health and safety protocols, MSC Cruises is planning a two-ship restart in the Mediterranean this month for European residents only, followed by a larger restart of 14 vessels on October 31, 2020.
The potential summer restart would see MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica welcome Schengen (EU) residents on voyages to the Mediterranean. MSC is still awaiting approval of these voyages, which would run one week in duration. Ports would include Greece and Malta, where MSC notes that cruises have officially been welcomed, and countries have reviewed, and support, MSC's safety protocols and restart of operations.
MSC notes these itineraries have been designed for Schengen-country residents only in order to reduce, where possible, the need for public transportation options to the port. Much of Europe is within easy driving distance, making drive-to cruising an increasing reality for the restart of sailings.
Details of fall sailings expected to restart on October 31 were not released by MSC cruises, though the company noted that no U.S.-based sailings would resume until the appropriate authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have given their explicit approval for MSC to do so.
Passengers on these initial voyages will only be permitted to go onshore on MSC-arranged shore excursions. No independent journeys ashore will be allowed.
MSC has had its new health and safety protocols vetted by maritime certification agency RINA, which has confirmed that the line's new protocols meets the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)'s guidance on cruise, which includes the standards and practices laid out in the EU Healthy Gateways recommendations to the cruise industry.
Under the new protocols, MSC will mandate universal health screening at embarkation that involves a temperature check, a health questionnaire and a COVID-19 swab test. MSC notes that depending on the screening results and the passenger's medical history, a secondary health screening may also take place. Passengers who test positive or display symptoms will be denied boarding.
Following EU guidelines, MSC will require passengers travelling from any high-risk region to obtain a COVID-19 PCR test to be done within 72 hours of joining the ship.
MSC will also roll out social distancing practices across its fleet, including an initial reduction in passenger capacity. It will also use elevated sanitation and cleaning measures, including hospital-grade disinfectants and UV-C light technology that removes up to 99.97 percent of potential microbes onboard.
In addition, MSC will also offer enhanced medical facilities onboard, including free treatment of any passenger suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms. The line will also offer dedicated isolation staterooms for suspected cases and close contacts.
MSC will also conduct ongoing health monitoring throughout the voyage, with passengers and crew having daily temperature checks.
MSC is also rolling out digital check-in processes and plans to utilize its MSC for Me app to facilitate its new health and safety measures.