Peter Lynch

By Peter Lynch, Editor in Chief

On board Viking Polaris in Antarctica

We’re aboard Viking Polaris in Antarctica along with some 300 passenger and 200 crew. Apart from spectacular scenery and amazing service, there is a daily ritual which quietly takes place: each morning at 9am my room attendant Felix collects a plastic tube of saliva.

It’s taken to a PCR lab on board and tested for Covid.

It’s a streamlined process- and Felix, in his polite but forthright way, is vigilant and insistent. As he should be. Because this simple act means everyone can be as assured as possible that the pandemic is not on board.

And if it is – it will be quickly and efficiently detected and contained.

viking covid kit

How much better this is than wearing a mask on board – as Carnival has mandated for Australian cruisers, a move which will undoubtedly cause many to reconsider a cruise holiday.

Of course, Viking Polaris is not the Majestic Princess.  She has only 189 state rooms and 378 passengers.

But Viking made the same system work on their ocean ships, which carry just over 900 guests. So how can so many tests be carried out so quickly, efficiently and in a matter of hours?

The answer is in the system used in Viking’s PCR lab on board. The samples are tested in matches of eight.  If one of a batch is suspect, then each individual sample is tested again. That’s how the numbers become manageable. And it may be the number in each batch could be increased.

The Viking Health & Safety Program was developed in partnership with an international team of medical advisors, including Raquel C. Bono, Viking’s Chief Health Officer. Dr. Bono in 2020, led Washington State’s medical and healthcare systems response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Viking’s chairman Torstein Hagen maintains his approach is the only “science based” one in cruise.

Viking still requires all guests and crew to be vaccinated, and staff wear masks. For guests, masks are a matter of personal choice  – and most express their faith in the fact that Viking is the only line with full-scale PCR laboratories installed on board by not wearing them.

Says Mr Hagen: “No other travel company has implemented the same science-led approach that includes a vaccination requirement for all guests, plus frequent non-invasive saliva PCR testing among all guests and crew. Therefore, we believe there will be no safer way to travel the world than on a Viking voyage.”

We understand case numbers are rising in Australia.  But today, we are so much better equipped to deal with Covid than in the dark days of 2020.

So how much better would it be if cruise lines found a similar solution to Viking’s – testing passengers in a non-invasive way so everyone is certain they are sailing safely.

It certainly beats masks!

The current wave season is just getting underway, and while Carnival’s new policy is understandable, it is nonetheless retrograde and will harm cruise’s return.

Of course, the big cruise operators will scoff and say the Viking system cannot be scaled. But it should be investigated –  along with a return to mandatory vaccination for all passengers.

It should certainly give the major cruise operators something to think. Travel agents are already concerned about cancellations as guests question if they really want to go back to the days of wearing masks on their holiday.