Researchers within Cell Biology and Industrial Management at Åbo Akademi University in Finland have developed models aimed at ensuring COVID-19 safety during cruises through their study, "Managing passenger flows during pandemics - reducing the risk of contracting infectious diseases during seaborne transportation."

The coronavirus pandemic stopped the cruise industry more or less completely. Major international cruise lines have largely suspended their cruises during 2020.

Upon assignment by Business Finland, an interdisciplinary research team has been working to find solutions for managing the current crisis as well as possible future pandemics. Within the Healthy Travel project, the researchers have developed models to describe work and passenger flows on vessels of different sizes as well as the need for testing in order to cost-effectively minimize the risk of embarkation of disease carriers.

"We have identified situations where the risk of spreading the virus is particularly high and developed processes and procedures to minimize the risks. Because the risk of infection spread is the largest when lots of people are gathered in confined spaces, we have primarily focused on embarkation and shared premises onboard," explained Magnus Hellström, Associate Professor in Industrial Management at Åbo Akademi University.

Moreover, the researchers have outlined how the different security levels can be used to prevent the virus from spreading onboard, depending on the infection situation. During a pandemic, the passenger numbers are limited and more attention is paid to cleaning the surfaces. Also, the need for queuing and times spent in shared premises can be reduced by, for example, offering electronic restaurant bookings. The risk of spreading the virus can further be mitigated by placing hand sanitizers and mask recommendations at entrances and by acquiring coronavirus test equipment for use during the cruise.

"Last spring in Japan, a virus outbreak originating from a single passenger onboard the Diamond Princess resulted in about 700 persons falling ill. The case showed how important it is to invest in relatively simple screening procedures for embarkation and safety routines during the cruise. Many of the measures implemented by cruise lines already create the conditions for much safer cruises than people may think," commented Erik Niemelä, Project Researcher in Cell Biology at Åbo Akademi University.

The research is currently under review and expected to publish soon.