Saga Cruises, a small, U.K.–based line that caters to passengers aged 50 and older, announced the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine requirement for cruise passengers this week.
In a notice posted to Saga’s website, the company says that when it resumes sailings on May 4 with the inaugural voyage of the Spirit of Adventure, all paying customers must have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days.
That requirement is in addition to Saga’s previously announced safety measures, which include pre-departure testing, reduced capacity, mandatory masks, and social distancing (all of which is in line with the industry norm).
Originally, Saga planned to resume sailing in April but moved the date to give passengers enough time to get their injections. As Travel + Leisure points out, the U.K., where Saga is headquartered, aims to have people over 50 vaccinated by spring.
The question now becomes: Will other, larger cruise lines follow in Saga’s wake with vaccine mandates of their own?
The major U.S. cruise companies, such as Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean, have all pushed their dates for resuming voyages to May, but executives have so far declined to commit to making Covid-19 vaccination a prerequisite for passengers.
Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain has said in interviews that his company is waiting for guidance from the Healthy Sail Panel, a group of public health experts brought together by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian to advise the companies on safety practices amid the pandemic.
The panel’s recommendations played a key role in persuading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift the no-sail order that was in effect last year from March to October.
The Healthy Sail Panel has yet to weigh in on a vaccine requirement. Given the slow rollout of inoculation in the U.S. up to now, many cruisers might not be able to get injections by spring anyway.
The stakes are high for cruise companies to resume operations safely. In the early days of the pandemic, passenger ships were singled out for their handling of the initial spread of Covid-19.