By Ramon Tomey
Cruise line Virgin Voyages will now require all crew members and passengers on its ships to get the Wuhan coronavirus vaccine. The company established by business magnate Richard Branson said it is “committed to fully vaccinated cruises,” adding that “vaccination and testing” is the future of travel. The decision by Virgin Voyages makes it among the first cruise lines to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations as a pre-requisite for travel.
Virgin Voyages CEO Tim McAlpin said that “there’s a huge pent-up demand for travel” and the company would soon be ready to welcome passengers aboard to address this demand. He added that the adults-only aspect of the cruise line “allows [it] to offer a highly controlled, safe environment for everyone on board.” According to McAlpin, Virgin Voyages is “uniquely set up to do this with testing and vaccine travel requirements.”
The vaccine requirement came amid the postponement of the line’s maiden voyage. Branson told Business Insider back in February 2019 interview that Virgin Voyages was officially open for business. He added that tickets for its maiden trip originally scheduled in April 2020 were already on sale. Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed the original date. The company’s first ship Scarlet Lady will now make its maiden voyage in July 2021, one year and three months from its original launch.
McAlpin also remarked that Virgin Voyages is “really encouraged” by the vaccine rollout plans of the Biden administration. According to a March 11 fact sheet released by the White House, the government will make the vaccine available to all American adults by May 1. President Joe Biden remarked four days later that “100 million shots in people’s arms will have been completed within the next 10 days.” Meaning, the administration’s initial goal of 100 million vaccinations within Biden’s first 100 days will be reached with plenty of time to spare.
The “no jab, no travel” policy had been foretold earlier
Virgin Voyages’ mandatory vaccination policy aligned with a projection that COVID-19 immunization will be a prerequisite for travel.
According to a Feb. 11 National File report, CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg predicted that both domestic and international travel will return by the summer of 2021. The journalist also mentioned that vaccine passports would be an important pre-requisite before people can travel to different countries. Presenting proof of COVID-19 vaccination is going to be the new standard in travel, he said.
“[The vaccine passport] will be required. The real question is what technology will be available to create a universally acceptable and … readable document that can’t be forged,” Greenberg said. He added that initial versions of the vaccine passport will be physical in nature, with digital versions being the long-term goal.
The travel editor continued: “[Authorities will] be asking for [the vaccine passport] at your point of departure and point of entry.” Greenberg gave examples of additional places where vaccine verification will be a standard procedure, namely airline ticket counters, passport control lanes and Customs and Border Protection embarkation points.
Greenberg estimated that vaccine passport checks would become a standard part of protocol for cruise lines and some air carriers by July 2021 – coinciding with Virgin Voyages’ maiden trip.
But prior to Greenberg’s remarks, a number of airlines have insinuated that passengers who plan to travel need to get the COVID-19 jab first. Australian flag carrier Qantas said it plans to require international travelers to get immunized against the Wuhan coronavirus. During a November 2020 interview in the Australian news program A Current Affair, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said vaccination will become “a necessity” for passengers entering and leaving Australia.
“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say, for international travelers, that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” he said. Joyce added that compulsory vaccination will likely “be a common thing” for international travelers, a thought his colleagues in other airlines worldwide shared.
Irish budget airline Ryanair also implied making vaccination a requirement before flying in its “Jab & Go!” advertisements. The air carrier included the tagline in its promotion, inviting travelers to book flights for the summer season.
However, Ryanair’s campaign contradicts an earlier statement by its CEO Eddie Wilson. The head of the budget carrier said it was not planning on making vaccinations for COVID-19 a requirement for passengers. Wilson said that the jabs are “not really relevant for short haul and European travel.” Comparing Ryanair’s policy to that of Qantas, he said: “With Qantas, [it’s] a long haul operator – vaccines in that context are really for long-haul [flights].”
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