All passengers and crew returning to New Orleans on December 5 after a one-week Western Caribbean sailing on the 3,963-passenger Norwegian Breakaway were tested for Covid-19 before they were allowed to leave the ship.
The move, which is new for cruise lines coming and leaving from a U.S. homeport, followed the discovery of what the cruise line is calling "a handful of COVID-19 asymptomatic cases among guests and crew." The reason for the concern: One of those cases, a South African crew member, is suspected to have the Omicron variant.
“We worked with the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to test everyone on board prior to disembarkation,” said Jose Cano, a Norwegian Cruise Line spokesman.
The cruise line immediately instituted new rules for guests who opted to board the ship on the next sailing, which embarked Sunday, Dec. 5. Norwegian said they "must wear masks while indoors except while actively eating or drinking and will be tested twice during the cruise," according to a statement to Cruise Critic. Guests on that sailing were also offered the opportunity to cancel without penalty.
The positive cases were found during a one-week sailing, which embarked from the Big Easy on Nov. 28 and visited Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras and Harvest Caye, Belize.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported 17 cases on the cruise among passengers and crew. There were reportedly about 3,200 people on the ship.
Separately, the Louisiana Department of Health confirmed its first case of Omicron in the state, which is not related to the cruise ship.
Those who tested positive were allowed to return to their local residences or otherwise told to self-isolate. The infected South African crew member was reportedly quarantining on the ship.
The CDC made the following statement: "The CDC is aware of COVID-19 cases among crew members and passengers on Norwegian Breakaway. CDC has been working with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) to gather more information about the case and possible exposures, and the ship collected specimens for genetic sequencing at CDC's laboratory. CDC worked with the NCL, Louisiana Department of Health, the City of New Orleans, and the Port of New Orleans to enact existing COVID-19 agreements and protocol with the cruise line."
Norwegian Cruise Line requires all guests to be fully vaccinated and to undergo Covid-19 tests within 48 hours of their sailings. Up to this point, masks were not required. It was not clear if the incident on Norwegian Breakaway would lead to changes on other sailings.
"As always, the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our highest priority," Norwegian Cruise Line said in its statement. "We will never compromise on health and safety and we will of course, continue to take all appropriate action to ensure everyone’s well-being and to protect public health."