Vaxxed vacations on cruises to nowhere

Top News | Sophie Hui 25 May 2021

"Cruises to nowhere" could be restarting this summer, when funseekers head out to sea from the SAR to enjoy onboard entertainment and fine dining and then sail back home.

The bid to relaunch the pleasure at sea business without any port of call was revealed by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah, who said officials are set for discussions with cruise companies.

The prerequisite is that all passengers should be vaccinated and crew members will have to have completed quarantine times after being inoculated and to undergo regular testing.

But Yau appeared to be in a rush to weigh anchor yesterday, with some cruise operators warning there would be much to do if a program was to start within months as discussions had yet to begin.

Yau also said after a Legislative Council panel meeting that it would be difficult to cruise to places like Taiwan, Japan and Singapore due to the pandemic situation, though high seas voyages fitted the need to get away from lockdowns.

People have been "stranded for quite a long time" in the SAR, Yau said, and cruises served the same role as "staycations" in hotels. And without a call at any port, contracting the coronavirus from another place was eliminated.

Even so, Yau believed people and cruise operators would be "exceptionally cautious" in resuming cruises because of the pandemic situation and previous outbreaks on cruise ships.

"I think exceptional measures would need to be taken both by the operators as well as the patrons to make sure this is a journey worth making," he said.

"So if sufficient precautions are being taken, if crew members fulfill all the quarantine, testing and vaccination requirements, would it be a safe start for a select few to have these limited short cruises?"

And the need for patrons to be vaccinated fitted what is "becoming a new norm for any resumption of traveling in the long term," Yau said.

Cruises could restart at the end of July at the earliest, tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said. Cruise companies would need time to prepare, including a need to recruit and train crew members who also have to undergo quarantine for at least 28 days and have Covid-19 shots.

He suggested epidemic prevention measures for cruise ships should include the use of only balcony rooms, negative pressure rooms and having doctors on board of course.

He also believed the risk of being infected on cruises would be lower than in the community because of stricter requirements than for hotels.

Yuen Chun-ning, executive director of travel agency WWPKG, said high seas cruises would be popular as they would be similar to staycations. He expected a cruise would cost about HK$1,000 a night, and most would last two days and a night or three days and two nights.

The passenger capacity on a cruise ship could not be more than 50 percent, and all passengers would have to get a negative test result no more than 72 hours before embarking. A testing service would also be provided at a pier. It is understood cruise-ship facilities like restaurants and theaters would also have to comply with the government's anti-epidemic measures.

But operators said yesterday said they were still trying to discuss the issue with government officials as they needed "clear answers" to start planning, and they would require at least two months to prepare.

One operator expressed concerns about many people would need to get vaccinated to go on a cruise, and then there were arrangements for children to take into account along with people who were barred from having a jab plus seamen from high-risk places like the Philippines.

Separately, Yau told lawmakers yesterday it would be difficult for the administration to set benchmarks for Hong Kong Disneyland to control costs, after the park reported a record high loss of HK$2.66 billion in the last financial year.

Yau urged legislators to understand the park's difficulties as the pandemic situation in Hong Kong is volatile and the park could not foresee when it can reopen after being shut down three times since January.

He also said the park does not need more taxpayer funding.

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