German cruise ship sets sail, hopes short trip thwarts virus

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BERLIN  — A German cruise ship is gingerly testing the water amid the coronavirus pandemic, setting sail for the first time since the industry was shut down months ago and using strict precautions to keep passengers and crew as safe as possible.

Passengers stand on board the Tui cruise ship ‘Mein Schiff 2’ during the departure from the port for a three-day trip on the North Sea in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 24, 2020. The cruise ship has set sail for the first time since the industry was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, with strict precautions to keep passengers and crew as safe as possible. Passengers will spend the weekend at sea with no land stops before returning to Germany on Monday. (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

The TUI cruise ship “Mein Schiff 2” — literally “My Ship 2” — set sail for a weekend cruise in the North Sea late Friday night, the dpa news agency reported.

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Occupancy was limited to 60% so passengers could keep their distance from one another, but even that level was not reached. The ship sailed off with 1,200 passengers on board compared to its normal 2,900 capacity. It was not reported how many crew were also on board.

The ship sailed from the northern port of Hamburg toward Norway, and passengers will spend the weekend at sea with no land stops before returning to Germany on Monday.

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On board, passengers and crew are required to stay 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from one another or wear protective masks and they will not be able to serve themselves at the ship’s buffet. All passengers also had to fill out a health questionnaire before boarding and have their temperatures taken.

After being shut down for months, German cruise ship companies are hoping that shorter, strictly controlled trips will help restart the business that has been devastated by the pandemic, which brought global travel to a standstill, forced cruise ship companies to suspend operations and stranded thousands of passengers and crew worldwide.

Starting Aug. 5, the AIDA cruise operator will sail from Hamburg with its first trip since the pandemic shut operations down months ago, with a second to leave on Aug. 12 from Rostock and a third departing on Aug. 16 from Kiel, dpa reported.

Germany has been widely lauded for its efforts to contain its coronavirus outbreak. It has reported over 206,000 infections but kept deaths to 9,124 — only one-fifth of Britain’s death toll. Germany is now in the process of reopening its economy, with strict guidelines on social distancing, mask use and personal hygiene measures.

U.S. health officials last week extended the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end of September as coronavirus infections rise in most U.S. states, including Florida, a popular departure site for Caribbean cruises. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief, Dr. Robert Redfield, said in the order that cruise industry hasn’t yet controlled the transmission of the virus on its ships.

Dozens of coronavirus outbreaks have hit cruise ships, including the highly-publicized Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak off Japan that saw 712 infections and 13 deaths.

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