RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian health authorities said Sunday (Jan 2) they would investigate reports of cruise liners violating COVID-19 protocols, after outbreaks hit three ships plying the coast.
"Failure to follow health protocols and disobeying restrictive measures imposed by the authorities constitute infractions that, if confirmed, will result in fines and the suspension of (cruise companies') activities," the federal health regulator, Anvisa, said in a statement.
The agency said it would also reinforce a recommendation it made Friday to the Brazilian health ministry to suspend all cruises immediately, given the global surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the new Omicron variant.
Brazil had allowed cruises to resume in November, but ordered companies to implement strict protocols against COVID-19, including testing passengers and quarantining them in case of infection.
The new crackdown comes after COVID-19 outbreaks erupted on three ships off the Brazilian coast at New Year's.
Anvisa said 26 passengers and two crew had tested positive from the MSC Preziosa, a 333m ship that was cruising off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
The ship, which has a capacity of 4,000 passengers, was allowed to dock at Rio's port Sunday.
Infected individuals and those who came into contact with them were ordered into isolation, Anvisa said.
On December 30, health authorities suspended the operations of two other ships, the Costa Diadema and MSC Splendida, after they, too, reported dozens of COVID-19 cases on board.
The 306-meter Costa Diadema, which was off the northeastern city of Salvador, was ordered to disembark 68 infected people and return to its port of origin in the southeastern city of Santos to go into quarantine.
The 333-meter Splendida, which was on its way to Rio de Janeiro, was also ordered back to Santos after reporting 78 COVID-19 cases.
The Diadema is operated by Italian cruise line Costa Crociere.
The Preziosa and Splendida are operated by the Brazilian branch of Swiss-Italian company MSC Cruises.
MSC said in a statement its ships would "maintain their future cruise programs unaltered."
"In the current context, a cruise is one of the safest vacation options in the world," it said.
"No other sector of the travel and tourism industry has such a complete and robust protocol to contain the spread of infectious diseases."