The decision to begin cruises to nowhere next month is important for both economic and psychological reasons. Coupled with recent announcements about opening air travel bubbles with countries that have managed the Covid-19 pandemic well, this latest move represents another careful step in opening up the economy. It also signals a nascent return to normalcy in a sector that has been hit hard since the middle of March, when Singapore joined several countries in closing their ports to cruise vessels over fears that they may carry infected passengers. On the psychological front, the short journeys could help release a pent-up desire to travel somewhere and experience something touristy. Of course, that satisfaction would be different since the round-trip cruises would not have ports of call.
Nevertheless, the journeys offer Singapore residents - which the cruises are restricted to - a welcome feel of the seas after months of having been deprived of "overseas" travel. Also, unlike the idea of airline flights to nowhere, sea journeys last longer and represent a different version of staycations, which have grown in popularity. These trips are being promoted to help the tourism sector, and to cater to consumers who want to spend a few days away from their homes which have doubled up as their offices. Whatever provides emotional release and helps the economy in the process deserves a fair go in these dismal times.
Elaborate health safeguards have been put in place. All passengers have to be tested for Covid-19 prior to boarding and will have to comply with safe management measures, such as mask-wearing and safe distancing. Tours will operate at a reduced capacity of 50 per cent, crew will be tested, the presence of fresh air must be ensured throughout the ship, and there must be emergency response plans for incidents related to Covid-19. The contingency plans, in the event of an infection or outbreak, include isolating infected passengers and their close contacts, ceasing on-board activities, and having the ship return to Singapore. These plans draw on the hard-learnt lessons of cruises that became incubators of Covid-19 in the early months of this year, before the nature of the disease and the steps needed to contain it on board became clear.
Clearly, no one wants these cruises to become a fresh source of contagion. In one view, a sea cruise is a safe bubble, safer than even staycations. But others have expressed concern over the thought of being on board the same ship with the same people for a few days. Given that two cruise lines will be part of the pilot scheme, how well they, their crew and passengers navigate through the safety restrictions will provide a useful gauge of the viability of these cruises to nowhere in general. Indeed, the eventual resumption of cruises to somewhere will benefit from this initiative.