Cruise company Viking has become the first in the world to host operational Covid-19 testing facilities on one of its ships, after announcing the completion of a PCR laboratory on its flagship liner, Viking Star.

Able to take and process non-invasive saliva tests, the lab has the capacity to test every passenger and crewmate on a daily basis, shoring up Covid security in an industry that struggled with it in the pandemic’s early days.

Cruise holidays 2021 in a time of Covid-19

“We have been working on this for a number of months,” says Matt Grimes, Vice President of Maritime Operations for Viking, “and today is important, as it moves us one step closer to operating cruises again, without compromising the safety of our guests and crew. In our view, continuous PCR testing, along with our extensive onboard hygiene protocols, will lead to making Viking ships a safe place to get away to and explore the world.”

Viking Star visits the skyscrapers of Manhattan (Viking/PA)
Viking Star visits the skyscrapers of Manhattan (Viking/PA)

Built in 2015, Viking Star became the company’s first ocean-going vessel when it launched in Bergen, Norway, and has now spent five years patrolling the Atlantic and the Med. On the small side for a cruise ship, the 227-metre vessel accommodates up to 930 passengers in 464 cabins, alongside two swimming pools, two hot tubs, and an extensive art collection.

US market opening for cruise holidays 2021

The new lab is yet to be fully tested, and will be unveiled publicly when Viking Star docks in Oslo in mid-November. With the US cruise market signalling that it may re-open soon, industry execs will be watching with interest to see how effectively the lab can restore consumer confidence.

Way back in February, cruise ships hit the headlines as hotbeds for viral infection, when the WHO announced that more than half the Covid cases outside China were concentrated on a single vessel off the coast of Japan. The Diamond Princess was quarantined, and its 3,711 occupants yielded more than 712 infections.

Cruise holidays 2021 - safe to cruise
Viking Star near Stockholm (Viking/PA)

Since then, the industry has fared rather better, and when the first ships set sail again in July, there wasn’t a headline to be found. Changing travel restrictions have dogged operators ever since, but many have found inventive ways of staying afloat.

Last month, two cruise lines with their headquarters in Singapore (Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International), launched so-called ‘cruises to nowhere’, in which liners would be put out to sea, sail around for a bit, and then return to the same dock. Demand, by all accounts, has been high and could see a new template for cruise holidays 2021.

So, when it will feel safe to cruise again is anyone’s guess, but daily testing certainly feels like a step in the right direction.

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