(11:00 a.m. EDT) -- MSC Cruises has announced it will launch discounted fares for healthcare professionals worldwide on its global cruises as a way to thank essential workers who are helping battle the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The program, which is available for healthcare professionals and their families, will be available beginning August 31 for sailings through the end of 2021. Eligible workers will receive discounts of up to 50 percent on bookings made by April 30, 2021.
"As a family-owned company we think it's only right and proper to find a way to express our heartfelt 'thank you' to each and every healthcare professional of the world -- as well as their families -- for their selfless and tireless dedication, professionalism and bravery in tackling the current global pandemic," MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said.
"The backbone of our Health and Safety protocol is down to the new data, research into COVID-19 and improved understanding of the virus that worldwide healthcare professionals have established during the pandemic."
Last week, MSC Cruises became the first big-ship cruise line to complete a weeklong sailing since the pandemic struck; MSC Grandiosa successfully sailed a Mediterranean cruise from Genoa, Italy.
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MSC's health and safety protocols -- including COVID-19 PCR tests pierside and the use of only approved shore excursions for passengers going ashore -- helped to detect COVID-19 positive cases before they reached the ship.
MSC Grandiosa is continuing to offer Mediterranean sailings, open only to members of the European Union. Additional big cruise lines, including AIDA and Costa, are expected to resume operations in a similar manner over the next few months.
MSC, which traditionally has offered Caribbean sailings from Florida -- aimed at the U.S. and Canadian market -- otherwise continues its global pause in operations.
It is not the first cruise line to offer discounted cruises to essential workers -- back in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic -- Royal Caribbean redeployed ships to offer cruises to first responders to the bush fires in Australia.
Other cruise lines, including AmaWaterways and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, had also offered health care and first responder discounts on future voyages.