Government defends cruise ship Covid policy in wake of cancellations
The Government has defended its controversial Covid testing policy for visitors in the wake of criticism from cruise ship operators.
Earlier this week The Royal Gazette revealed that two cruise lines had cancelled seven transatlantic cruises scheduled visits to the island by the end of the year. Operators blamed “Bermuda’s testing requirements” for the cancellations.
The news prompted outrage from west end retailers who called for the testing policy, in which visitors must pay $40 to take a Covid test just prior to arrival, to be scrapped.
Yesterday Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said testing was still necessary on cruise ships because of the greater risk of infection compared with aircraft.
Ms Wilson said: “If cruises take more than four days to arrive to Bermuda, passengers wishing to get off the ship in Bermuda must take another supervised Covid-19 test on board, no more than two days before arrival to Bermuda.
“Unvaccinated passengers may use this test to get off the ship in Bermuda. This requirement is not new, and cruise lines have been aware of it for some time.
“Cruise ships have a significantly dense residential setting, quite different from aeroplanes. There is a greater risk of infection because the virus spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.
“On a cruise ship, it is hard to avoid the three Cs – closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings. These precautions allow everyone to ‘know their status’ as, unfortunately, the coronavirus is still with us.”
Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport added that it was not unusual for operators to cancel some cruises during the off season.
He said: “Traditionally, Bermuda enjoys a robust cruise ship season of between 170 to 180 calls per year. In recent years, cruise lines have been deploying their ships year round, and certainly, we are seeing more calls in November, and early December.
“But it's not uncommon to lose up to ten calls a season for various reasons. Nor is it uncommon to add calls. The cruise ship schedule has always been fluid.
“Earlier this year 180 cruise ship calls were scheduled in 2022, and with the adding and cancelling of calls, Bermuda is currently at 175 calls projected as of September 15.
“So, putting this all in perspective, this is an average year for ship calls. Regarding the recent cancellations, the cruise lines have relayed to us that us that testing on-board the ships has had an impact on their operations and their guests’ experience.
“But it should be pointed out that some of the cruise calls missed this season have been agreed between Bermuda and our cruise partners owing to the high number of positive cases identified as a result of this testing requirement.”
Tracy Berkeley, appointed interim chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority in June, said: “While we are disappointed at the temporary schedule changes from the cruise industry. Bermuda is, like so many communities, balancing the need to welcome visitors while protecting the health and wellbeing of our island community.”
She added: “It’s a challenging decision from every angle and the Government has stated that the Travel Authorisation will remain in place until March 2023.”