Australian Economy

infected passengers on luxury WA cruise ship True North sent to shore

WA on Thursday reported a record 17,105 new cases and had 88,781 “active” cases across the state.

Dealing with COVID-19 in WA is q new experience for True North, which unlike many large ships resumed operations in mid-2020 as the state kept COVID-19 at bay, partly by controversially closing its borders until March 3 this year.

A spokesman for True North declined to comment.

Joel Katz, managing director Australasia for the Cruise Lines International Association, said that despite the possibility of catching COVID-19 and spending their holiday isolating, sentiment among cruisers was “back to pre-COVID levels”.

“Cruise lines are experiencing strong forward bookings, in many cases exceeding pre-COVID levels, with record booking levels,” he said. “New-to-cruise sentiment is also strong, and is reflected in the feedback from cruise lines and travel agents at the high demand for both domestic and international cruises.”

Ponant’s small expedition ship Le Lapérouse arrived in Darwin last month to operate between Darwin and Broome, as the company said it was almost sold out for the Kimberley cruising season. It is also sending an additional small luxury ship, Le Soléal, to operate from late this month “due to high demand”.

It is a stark turnaround, with few industries globally having a harder pandemic than cruising, including in Australia. The federal government in March 2020 banned large international cruise vessels from entering the country.

Cruising bounces back

The ban was lifted on April 17 and Mr Katz said the industry was bouncing back around the world, with cruises resuming in more than 100 countries, and more than 10 million guests having sailed.

Internationally, some 12 million people have taken a cruise since late 2020, with COVID-19 cases on board generally isolated in their cabins unless requiring intensive onshore medical treatment or if numbers escalate dramatically.

Early last month, the WA government said it planned to allow larger cruise ships to return to WA ports in October.

Until October, ships from interstate carrying up to 350 people can operate in WA waters, and must have a COVID-19 “management plan”. All crew and passengers must also be double-dose vaccinated, and triple dosed if eligible.

The WA Health spokesman said vessels can dock at regional ports to allow positive cases to disembark and move to accommodation to complete their isolation, which is seven days in the state.

“There are strict guidelines in place that outline the infection prevention and control measures that need to be followed during disembarkation and transport,” the spokesman said, adding that vessel operators, like all businesses, were “now managing COVID-19 cases independently”.

Mr Katz said that the “incidence of serious illness is far lower on cruise ships than on land as a result of the robust protocols agreed with health authorities”.

He said the industry delivered more than $5 billion a year to the Australian economy and supported thousands of direct and indirect jobs, with businesses “finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel” after a tough two years.

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