During the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry faced substantial challenges in cruise operations and onboard epidemic prevention. In the post-pandemic era, APEC economies are actively working to revive the international travel market and to facilitate the health and safety of cross-border cruise travel. The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (Taiwan CDC) is hosting the "Managing Infectious Diseases on Cross-Border Cruise Ships in the Post-COVID-19 Era: Application of Digital Technology" conference on August 24 and 25, 2023. Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Jih-Haw Chou and Taiwan CDC Director-General Jen-Hsiang Chuang are leading experts and representatives from academia, government, and industry in Taiwan and 12 other countries to share experiences of responses to public health events on cruise ships during the pandemic and to explore the application of digital technology to enhance epidemic prevention work.
Deputy Minister Chou stated that the characteristics of cruise ships, such as high crowd density, frequent personnel interaction, voyages spanning multiple economies and ports, and the provision of large quantities of food and drinking water, highlight the importance of monitoring, prevention, mitigation, and management of infectious diseases (respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal diseases, vaccine-preventable diseases) on cruise ships. It is hoped that this conference can establish cooperation and epidemic prevention networks among APEC economies. This will allow them to collectively enhance the resilience of the cruise industry in prevention and control of infectious diseases on cruise ships in the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan CDC pointed out that the conference features a keynote speech on “Global and Regional Cooperation on Cruise Ship Preparedness and Management of Infectious Diseases” and presentations on various topics, including “Cruise Sanitation Inspections and Management”, “Experiences of Responding to Public Health Events on Cruise Ships”, and “Strengthening Prevention and Control on Cruise Ships: Application of Digital Technology” to share relevant experiences. The participants include 22 scholars, experts, and representatives from the cruise industry from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam, as well as domestic experts, scholars, and representatives from domestic cruise related associations. Additionally, around 100 representatives from public and private sectors in Taiwan, including the Maritime Port Bureau, the Tourism Bureau, Taiwan International Ports Corporation, Ltd., the Association for Cruises Development of Taiwan, and local governments (health departments), have been invited to participate in the conference and exchange experiences. Furthermore, a site visit to the Port of Keelung is scheduled for the morning of August 25 for a deeper exchange of experiences in epidemic prevention on cruise ships.
According to the projections of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the global cruise passenger volume will exceed pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. Taiwan CDC pointed out that in order to welcome the return of cruise passengers and to ensure their health and safety on board, it is imperative to "invest" in epidemic prevention and preparedness. These efforts include establishing alert thresholds for public health events on cruise ships based on scientific evidence, formulating global public health standards for cruise ships and guidelines for airport/port preparedness and response to public health events, and applying AI or new technology to enhance monitoring of the health of crew members on board, water safety, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems and response protocols. It is hoped that through this conference, APEC economies can share experiences and improve the capability of the cruise industry in the Asia-Pacific region to prevent and control infectious diseases and use technology for epidemic prevention. This collective effort will help ensure the health and safety of cruise travel.