In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has begun combating the virus’ spread aboard ships, by issuing its set of guidelines for shipowners and crew. WHO’s guidelines encourage and inform crew members about recognizing symptoms of the virus, making suspect cases easier to identify and manage. WHO also recommends a streamlined outbreak management plan to be implemented.
In the guidelines, the WHO recommends:
– Crew members should wash their hands often, avoid touching their face, and have alcohol-based hand sanitizer readily available for use;
– Anyone aboard suspected of contracting the virus should be asked immediately to wear a face mask and should be isolated. The ship’s master is required to inform the health authorities at the next port of call. Contact tracing should begin immediately. People who were in close contact with a suspected case must be separated from other individuals as soon as possible;
– Anyone who has shared the same cabin or has had close contact with the infected person in a closed environment- such as cabin stewards, restaurant staff, gym trainers, healthcare workers, people dining at the same table or crew working together- are deemed to be at high risk. They should remain on board the ship, but in their cabins, or be quarantined at a shore facility;
– Crew should wear disposable gloves when in contact with sick people or contaminated areas;
– If a coronavirus test comes back positive, any people who were in close contact with the patient should go into onshore quarantine. WHO provides specific measures for how suspected cases should be transferred for medical care: transport staff must wear a full complement of PPE, including a long-sleeved gown, and must change the entirety between interactions with different patients;
– Cabins where patients have stayed should be cleaned and disinfected daily. All laundry, food service utensils and waste should be considered infectious and handled accordingly;
– If the vessel is in port, the port state authorities should decide, in consultation with the shipowner, whether to end the voyage;
– Upon leaving the ship, all passengers and crew who are not considered high risk should provide their contact details to the vessel, in case a coronavirus case is diagnosed later on. The contact information should be retained for 30 days; and
– WHO advises that a ship that has experienced a coronavirus case should be sanitized and should change its crew before sailing again.
In a review of the new guidelines, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) also recommended to all crewmembers that, if possible, make interactions brief and limited to a single other crewmember.
It is hoped that, if these guidelines are implemented successfully within other regulatory and commercial entities as well, the international spread of the virus- and the economic damage to the maritime industry it its wake- could be significantly reduced.