SA Cruise News

MSC pushes South African cruise season back to February amid new COVID strain

The emergence of two new strains of COVID-19, one originating in South Africa and the other in the UK, has prompted MSC Cruises to further postpone its 2020/21 cruise season out of Durban and Cape Town.

MSC Cruises’ decision to push back the start date of the new South African cruise season followed the announcement of tighter anti-COVID-19 restrictions by the SA government as the country fights the spread of a new variant of the virus.

MSC Orchestra’s season out of Durban is due to go ahead, but MSC has not yet recieved approval from SA authorities.

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Instead of commencing the new cruise season in January as previously scheduled, MSC Orchestra is now due to begin cruising from Durban in February. Her first cruise from South Africa is scheduled for February 1st, a Cape Town departure.

That cruise is a 4-day itinerary ending in Durban, from which she is then scheduled to cruise on February 12th on a 3-night roundtrip voyage. She is scheduled to operate ten 3 and 4-night roundtrip Durban cruises (including one 2-night cruise to nowhere) between mid-February and the end of April.

Whether these cruises will take place hangs in the balance as MSC continues to discuss the resumption of cruises with the South African government. Authorities have opened ports to private yachts, but cruises remain suspended.

Hopes for an imminent return to service, in South Africa at least, have been dashed by the emergence of two new strains of the coronavirus, one of which emerged in South Africa itself.

Cape Town, South Africa is the main port for international cruises, but no cruise ships have been allowed to dock since early 2020.

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The new variant is more contagious and is believed to be behind a rapid spike in the infection rate across South Africa. According to the Sunday Times, South Africa recorded two spikes this week — a daily death count of 497 on Tuesday and 18,000 positive infections on Thursday.

The country has passed the dubious 1-million case milestone, while more than 26,000 people in the country have died from the virus. To put that in perspective, that’s just over a third of the number of South Africans that died from HIV-related illnesses in 2019.

Despite the rollout of various vaccines elsewhere in the world, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that a vaccine will likely only be available in the country in the second quarter of 2021.

While a vaccine has not been hailed as an end to all the problems of the spread of COVID-19, the US Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), has indicated that it would likely mitigate the spread of the virus aboard ship.

Until a significant portion of the population in South Africa has been vaccinated, bringing down the infection rate, the prospects for a full recovery of the cruise sector in the country will remain uncertain.

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