Mediterranean cruise sails after five-month pause

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People on their way to board the MSC Grandiosa cruise ship at a port in Genoa, northern ItalyImage copyright

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MSC Cruises says all passengers and crew have been tested for coronavirus before boarding

The first major cruise ship to set sail in the Mediterranean in almost five months has disembarked from the Italian city of Genoa.

The MSC Grandiosa will stop at three Italian ports and the Maltese capital Valletta in a seven-day voyage.

Operator MSC Cruises, say all passengers and crew have been tested for coronavirus before boarding.

It comes as virus cases continue to rise around Italy, with more than 600 reported by authorities yesterday.

In response, Italian authorities have ordered the closure of all dance halls and night clubs from Monday. Face masks will also be mandatory from 18:00 to 06:00 local time in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

MSC Cruises said it will also be operating the MSC Grandiosa at around 70% of its normal operations, with approximately 2,500 passengers onboard, to ensure safety protocols.

Its launch is seen as a first step towards rebooting an industry that generates an estimated $150bn (£114bn) for the world economy, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

For Italy, badly hit by coronavirus, it is particularly important. It ranks seventh among the cruise ship operating nations, carrying more than 800,000 passengers in 2018.

Last week Italy’s government gave permission for cruise lines to resume operations in the country from 15 August.

MSC Cruises, which operates the MSC Grandiosa, will launch another cruise from the Italian port of Bari on 29 August, but has otherwise suspended its Mediterranean cruises until mid-October.

The international cruise industry has taken huge financial losses due to the pandemic. Several carriers have also been criticised for leaving thousands of passengers stranded aboard ships in Asia and the US in the early months of the pandemic. As of 11 June, 3,047 people were infected and 73 died while aboard 48 cruise ships affiliated with CLIA, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The company said its new security protocols – including daily temperature checks for those onboard – exceed national and industry standards. But the sailing of MSC Grandiosa represents a key test for the industry amid lingering concerns over passenger safety.

At the end of July, a small Norwegian operator, Hurtigruten, was forced to suspend its newly restarted service after dozens of passengers and crew tested positive for coronavirus.

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