A large cruise ship set sail from Genoa last night in a first test of prospects for the Mediterranean cruise market since the coronavirus pandemic forced a worldwide halt to operations six months ago.
Passengers queued for health tests before being allowed on board the MSC Grandiosa, which is operating at 70 per cent of its normal capacity of 6,000 passengers. The ship will visit the ports of Civitavecchia near Rome, Naples, Palermo and Valletta in Malta during the seven-day voyage.
Passengers will be allowed ashore only for tours organised by the cruise company and buffet food will be served at tables to facilitate social distancing.
The parent company MSC Cruises was founded in Naples but now has its headquarters in Geneva. Grandiosa’s sister ship, MSC Magnifica, begins a similar week-long cruise from the southern Italian port of Bari on August 29.
A rival operator Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival, will resume its Mediterranean operations on September 6 with a ship departing from Genoa and bookings restricted to Italian passengers. All destinations for the seven-day cruise will be in Italy.
Italy is the leading player in the European cruise industry, earning €14.5 billion in revenue each year and supporting nearly 53,000 jobs, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade body.
The suspension of cruises since March is believed to have cost the European industry some €25.5 billion in lost earnings.
Global health authorities blamed the industry for a slow response to the spread of the virus at the onset of the outbreak, citing lax monitoring of crew, continued operation of self-service buffets and gyms, and lack of personal protective equipment. By June 11 more than 3,000 people had become infected and 73 people had died aboard 48 cruise ships affiliated with CLIA.
Fiumicino international airport in Rome began administering saliva tests yesterday for passengers arriving from four European countries with worrying levels of infection.
Passengers from Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain are required to provide evidence of a negative test taken within the previous 72 hours, undertake to obtain their own test within two days, or submit to a swab in the arrivals sector of the airport. Results of the test are due within two days and passengers must self-isolate at home until they have been given the all-clear.
Some passengers arriving in Rome yesterday complained of long delays, with only eight people administering the tests in specially erected booths, and problems with computers.
Passengers arriving from the UK are required to fill in a form providing their flight number, contact details and confirmation that they have not been suffering from Covid-19 symptoms.
The government has ordered a nationwide closure of discos and dance halls from today and required the wearing of masks in open spaces where people socialise in the evenings. The move came after a jump to 629 new cases on Saturday and evidence that a growing number of young people were becoming infected.
Marco Bellafiore, a nurse at Umberto I hospital in Rome, posted a photo of himself in goggles, plastic gloves and personal protection suit with a polemical message urging people to wear a mask.
“Come and tell me that it’s all OK, that there’s no Covid, that we’ll go dancing tonight,” he wrote on Facebook. “It’s not you who has to wear a weight-loss suit in 30C temperatures.”