New cruises in Brazil suspended amid spread of omicron

Cruise ship activity has been temporarily suspended along Brazil’s shores until Jan. 21 due to the spread of the coronavirus’ omicron variant, according to a statement the federal government published Monday night.

The decision came after a recommendation from the nation’s health regulator, which said in a separate statement Monday night that it took into account the “spiraling increase of COVID-19 cases on board ships in recent days, which indicates a radical change in the epidemiological scenario.”

The agency highlighted an “accentuated explosion” starting Dec. 26, with almost 800 cases detected on cruise ships in just nine days — 25 times the total seen over the prior 55 days and likely stemming from spread of the omicron variant, it said.

Members of the government met with representatives of the cruise companies earlier Monday, according to the federal government’s statement. A statement from the Brazilian office of the Cruise Lines International Association said the suspension was a voluntary measure adopted by the companies as a means to align themselves with federal government, the health regulator, states and municipalities.

Its statement said no new departures will take place until Jan. 21, but that ongoing cruises will finish their itineraries as planned. Cruise lines MSC Cruzeiros and Costa Cruzeiros operate in Brazil.

“In recent weeks, the two affected cruise companies have experienced a series of situations that directly impact ships’ operations, making continuation of the cruise ships impractical at this moment,” the statement said. “Moreover, operational uncertainty has caused significant inconvenience for guests.”

Yesterday in Rio de Janeiro, health authorities inspected an MSC vessel and found more than two dozen passengers infected. Passengers aboard waited six hours to disembark and the health regulator ordered those who tested positive to quarantine at home or in hotels. The ship was allowed to continue operating and, after others embarked, headed for northeastern Bahia state.

Last week, the regulator interrupted activities on another cruise ship located in Bahia’s capital, Salvador, after finding community transmission of COVID-19. That ship was directed to Santos, in Sao Paulo state.

The cruise lines association said health protocols on board are both rigid and exemplary — including obligatory vaccination for guests and crew and pre-boarding COVID-19 testing — and lamented the need to suspend voyages.

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