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Controlling infection on large passenger ships


Passenger ships and in particular cruise ships (with their high occupancy rates and elevated passenger and crew numbers of up to 8000 persons, close proximity of passengers and crews, high crew turnover with crews coming from many different countries, frequent port calls naturally implying common shore side excursions, and on-board activities with intense social interaction) have been implicated in the spread and multiplication of disease. Large and medium-sized cruise ships have seen a highly dynamic and sometimes dramatic multiplication of Covid-19 infections on-board and the disembarkation of several hundred infected (and often asymptomatic) passengers who subsequently became vectors for infection within the regions concerned and their home regions. In this context it needs to be kept in mind that cruise passengers often travel to and from the ship by air, adding to the potential spread. Passenger ships have also been hosts for the rapid spread of Norovirus illness, influenza and legionella infections. This can be particularly problematic for (generally smaller) passenger ships that undertake longer expedition-type cruises away from population centres, thus entirely or predominantly relying on on-board medical services and facilities. Europe as the world’s largest and almost exclusive producer of large and medium-sized passenger and cruise ships and as home to a large number of important cruise destinations must ensure a healthy on-board environment which is also crucial for the viability and the sustainable growth of the business. Whilst guidelines to control the spread of on-board infections have been published, it is clear that these are not fully effective and there is a lack of an evidence base to underpin the effectiveness of the suggested measures for different infections. Important knowledge gaps continue to exist and so far the real effectiveness of different mitigation measures now deployed remains largely anecdotal.

To address these challenges, proposals will address one of the following two aspects and cover all of the tasks mentioned.

  1. “Infection control on-board large passenger ships - prevention, mitigation and management”.
    • Establishing a comprehensive scientific basis concerning the effectiveness of different prevention, mitigation and management measures.
    • Developing and demonstrating solutions for improving the prevention, mitigation and management of on-board disease and illness.
    • Cooperate and coordinate with other projects selected from this topic as well as other relevant actions such as the EU’s “healthy gateways” action.
    • Outcomes and data to be made publicly available to facilitate the take up of best practices, also in function of vessel type and size, type of cruise and cruise destination. A distinction should be made between large ferries as typically deployed in Europe and cruise ships.
  2. Healthy ship design”:
    • Applying a bottom-up evidence based approach address the functional and concept design of large passenger ships so as to reduce the on-board spread of infection.
    • Research should in particular address ventilation systems and their airflows, germicidal surfaces and disinfection practices, contamination control in all relevant ship areas, facilitating enhanced quarantine, process separation, the design of social areas including those for the crew, the design of crew work areas, especially pantries, laundries etc.. In this respect a better interaction of people with the vessel and its equipment on the basis of social innovations (e.g. hands-free accessibility solutions) should also be considered.
    • Innovative systems should be addressed to enable early stage detection of the spread of on-board infections such as for example employing AI, big data, smart sensors etc.
    • Cooperate and coordinate with other projects selected from this topic as well as other relevant actions such as the EU’s “healthy gateways” action.
    • Outcomes and guidance concerning healthy ship design should be made available to facilitate the take up of best practices by ship interior designers, shipyards, and equipment manufacturers.

This topic requires the effective contribution of SSH disciplines and the involvement of SSH experts, institutions as well as the inclusion of relevant SSH expertise, in order to produce meaningful and significant effects enhancing the societal impact of the related research activities.