As our first cruise season draws to a close this month and is being hailed a major success, the plight of unvaccinated passengers has sparked a growing campaign to persuade state governments to relax the regulations governing who can board a cruise ship in Australian waters.
Hundreds from both sides of the debate have responded to reports that a change might be in the offing, those in favour of lowering protocols pointing to the Federal Government’s own website as illustrating the unfairness of their plight.
The Health Department’s website says under its cruise section: “Travellers to and from Australia no longer need to provide evidence of their COVID-19 vaccination status… Cruise operators may have specific requirements for their passengers, and must also meet any requirements of the state or territory they are operating in. Check the requirements of your cruise operator and the states and/or territories and countries in which you will be travelling.”
Governments around the world have relaxed their policies on unvaccinated travellers, and Australia’s Federal Government has no restrictions on cruisers.
The states, however, have maintained their position that passengers must be vaccinated.
Cruise lines have also relaxed their positions in other parts of the world – Viking recently stated its vaccine policy will remain for the indefinite future.
Viking’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, Richard Marnell told TravelWeekly: “Our guests overwhelmingly, for the time being, want a vaccinated ship.”
Cunard, Lindblad Expeditions and Windstar cruises, on the other hand, are eliminating COVID requirements altogether, including testing, isolating and mask-wearing, and other major lines such as Royal Caribbean, NCL, Carnival and more have removed vaccination requirements in the majority of locations.
While few in Australia want to be seen to be pushing for change so soon after a season of success, guests have contacted Cruise Passenger complaining the unvaccinated are being unfairly treated. Others say that, with the protocol in place, they feel safe taking a cruise holiday, and that removing them would be a deterrent.
Donna Madzar commented that she’s unvaccinated and ready to start cruising again and is feeling frustrated with current protocols.
“I think all covid mandates for cruising must be lifted in line with the rest of the world. Most covid infections on cruises are from vaccinated passengers – as unvaccinated are banned from Australian cruises. Everyone can see that it doesn’t matter anymore if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated.
“I’m unvaccinated, healthy and willing to contribute my money to the cruise industry to keep staff in jobs. And to spend money on Australian soil in different states.”
Ms Madzar said she feels it is a form of discrimination that she is still not allowed to sail.
“The covid cruise mandates must be lifted as this is a form of discrimination against Australians who are taxpayers and deserve better than this treatment! If I can work in an office, go to the movies, travel on planes, eat in restaurants, go to footy and Tennis with huge crowds, why can’t I cruise?
“The mandates have been lifted across most parts of the world for the cruise industry and we need to follow and learn to live with this as other countries are doing.”
Cruise Passenger understands that vaccination and other COVID protocols will face review in April.
A NSW Government spokesperson shared with Cruise Passenger that they are unable to put any sort of timeline on when the protocols will be reviewed.
“The Eastern Seaboard and Western Australian Cruise Protocols outline a range of public health measures to mitigate the health risks to cruise passengers and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Over the summer cruising season, the Cruise Protocols supported cruise lines to operate safely.
“The NSW Government is not in a position to indicate the process or timing for reviewing the current Cruise Protocols.
“The Cruise Protocols and additional information on COVID-safe cruising are available here.”
User ‘Happy Cruisers’ wrote that despite being vaccinated, they also feel the mandates should end.
“Time to bring Australia in line with the rest of the cruise world. There are no restrictions anywhere else in Australia for unvaccinated residents or tourists so why is this outdated requirement still in the cruise industry?
“I am vaccinated but have many family members of various ages that cannot get vaccinated for various reasons and they are longing to join family cruising holidays again.”
Diane Reardon was amongst the other comments advocating for the unvaccinated to cruise.
“I totally agree with unvaccinated people being able to cruise. Unvaccinated people are allowed to travel by plane which demands them to sit in very close proximity to other passengers for many hours. Surely this is riskier than cruising.”
However, there were many people vehemently on the other side of the fence.
Hugh Maxwell Moffitt wrote: “They have to be JOKING, after travelling on the Majestic Princess over the Christmas/New Year cruise, we were required to wear masks in the public areas which while were a little disappointed, we were happy with our cruise. One thing we noticed, a second RAT test was undertaken 2 days into our cruise which was supervised by our cabin steward.
“We were again on the Majestic Princess on the Northern Australia cruise which sailed on the 27th of February from Brisbane to Port Douglas but the ship had picked up passengers in Sydney before Brisbane. There was no wearing of masks but we were careful as RAT tests were part of boarding. Part of our cruise included calling back into Sydney to disembark passengers we guess who was not doing the around Australia section of the cruise.
“The people who boarded in Sydney were very open to not distancing themselves in the lifts and sadly my wife and I both finished with Covid, along with another couple who live in our village, so thanks for that.”
Karen Hunter wrote: “No I shall not be cruising with unvaccinated people on the ship, having seen how covid spreads on board on previous cruises you can count me out.”
Regular Cruiser wrote: “It is stupid to let unvaccinated and untested passengers travel on a cruise ship. If they bring it on board, they will infect a large number of unknowing passengers. Especially in restaurants, bars, theatres, corridors and lifts. I for one do not want to be anywhere near an unvaccinated person on a cruise ship at sea.”