25 Oct 2022

Covid-19 cases on one of first cruise ships to return to New Zealand

1:10 pm on 25 October 2022

Covid-19 cases have been confirmed on one of the first cruise ships to travel around New Zealand in more than two years.

The cruise ship 'Ovation of the Seas' arriving in Bremerhaven, Germany, 28 March 2016.

The cruise ship 'Ovation of the Seas' (file photo) Photo: AFP / DPA Picture-Alliance

Ovation of the Seas sailed in to Napier on Monday from Tahiti.

It went on to Wellington, arriving on Tuesday morning, and from there will go to Picton, then Sydney.

The cruise liner carries almost 5000 passengers and 1300 crew.

In a statement, National Public Health Service medical officer of health in Hawke's Bay Bridget Wilson said authorities had been told about the Covid-19 cases and were confident requirements were being followed.

"Before any ship coming from overseas enters a New Zealand port, it has to be granted pratique [permission] by the local public health service. This requires ships' captains to notify the public health service of any suspected infectious illness like Covid-19 on board, and show they are taking the necessary isolation and quarantine action."

"Ovation of the Seas was granted pratique on Sunday 23 October to dock and disembark passengers from the cruise liner in accordance with border control measures set out by the Ministry of Health.

"Having reviewed the isolation and testing protocols in place aboard Ovation of the Seas, we are confident that Covid-19 cases are being isolated appropriately and their contacts managed in line with our current domestic settings."

Wilson has not yet specified how many cases were notified to authorities.

Royal Caribbean operates the ship and in a statement, said positive cases had to isolate in their cabin for five days and if they still had symptoms, on days six and seven.

"Positive cases on board are required to isolate in their cabin for 5 days and if still symptomatic on days six and seven.

"Those sharing cabins with Covid positive guests must wear masks and undertake daily Rapid Antigen Testing."

All guests aged 12 and over cruising to New Zealand had to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and return a negative Covid-19 test result before sailing.

'Cash tolls were rolling' - souvenir shops

Souvenir shop operators in Napier said they were not worried about the spread of Covid from cruise ships.

Adore Collection is a gift shop in central Napier.

Co-owner Sally Holyer said the city centre was "buzzing" yesterday.

"It was fantastic to see town so busy, people everywhere, the weather was stunning and the cash tills were rolling."

Sales in her shop were tracking above 2019 for the same ship, about the same time of year.

She was not concerned about the spread of Covid this time around.

"Doesn't worry me at all, we're all jabbed, we've done everything that was asked and have got to live with it."

Sales assistant Karen Taylor from House of Creations, another gift shop, said it was great to see cruise ship passengers back in town.

Again, she had no concerns about Covid-19 cases.

"A lot of them stayed on board that I know of, I think we just take every day in our stride, just one day at a time."

Minister responds

Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall said even though there was a risk of community transmission from cruise ships, she believed the balance was right.

"There is going to be a risk that we have to accept while we have our borders open - both air travel, cruise ships, the works.

"There is Covid transmission across the border and that is part of having our borders open, but we are not in the situation of high[er] risk across our border which we were in before because we are a highly vaccinated population.

"The process for the management of cruise ships has been worked over thoroughly between health officials and I think they've come up with a process that can be implemented and is alert to when there are high numbers of Covid cases on board."

Health expert weighs in

University of Otago Wellington professor of public health Michael Baker said cruise ships were "notorious" for infectious disease outbreaks.

"I think it's understandable that people are a little bit concerned about seeing cruise ships coming back into the harbour, given there was so much focus on them in the early days of the pandemic."

Thousands of passengers and crew would be in a confined environment with lots of shared facilities, he said.

But the "environment had changed hugely" since March 2020, when the country was closing its borders, Baker said.

"The contribution from cruise ships is relatively small, it's still likely to be real ... given they've got people getting on and off and people mixing in different ports, they will inevitably have Covid-19 on board."

Even though he thought infections would "inevitably" be introduced into the community, he did not think it would bring on new strains or waves.

"We have more than 10,000 people every day flying into New Zealand from all over the globe so we are fully connected with the whole diversity of Covid variants and sub variants and that's a much faster way for them to arrive here rather than via cruise ship."