The COVID pandemic hit the cruise industry very hard. Shortly after the start of the pandemic, outbreaks of the virus began to circulate aboard the large cruise ships, causing the ships to be barely welcome at any ports. Many countries have since kept their ports closed. The Falkland Islands have also imposed heavy restrictions on cruise ships to protect their own population from the introduction of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Now the Executive Council, the supreme authority of the Falkland Islands has published its policy for the coming season.
In a press release, ExCo (Executive Council) announced that from October 1, 2021, only expedition vessels with less than 530 passengers on board will be allowed to call at the Falkland Islands. In addition, the existing rule that the ship must have been at sea for 14 days beforehand and that all people on board, passengers and crews, must be symptom-free in order to be allowed to go ashore still applies. “Vessels also need to agree to a set of rigorous public health conditions that will be closely monitored by the Strategic Pandemic Management Group,” is stated in the release. All vessels with more than 530 passengers on board are not on the list of permitted vessels.
At first glance, the new visitor policy for expedition ships seems to be good news for the upcoming Antarctic season. But on closer inspection, there is still the question of whether a season will happen. Because there is still the addition of the “14 days at sea” attached to the entry requirements. This means that all expedition ships, which usually start their voyages from Ushuaia in Argentina, may have to change their schedules. This is because they normally run clockwise tours via the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. If they were to reverse the tours and call at the Falkland Islands at the end, the number of 14 days would be given. However, it is not yet clear whether the shore excursions undertaken during the voyage in the wilderness areas of the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia and the landing at Grytviken, which is obligatory for administrative reasons when visiting the island, will cancel this “14-day” rule again and thus no call is possible. A request to the authorities to this effect has not yet been answered.
UPDATE: We have just been informed by the Falkland Islands Government that expedition ships sailing their Antarctic voyage in reverse order (Antarctica, South Georgia, Falklands) and making landings will be able to call at the islands. The Falkland Islands Government’s Head of Communications, Rhian Burgess, confirmed an email enquiry from us to this effect. However, she points out that the administrations of South Georgia and the British Antarctic Territories establish their own entry requirements. Therefore, further clarification in advance is important. However, the Falkland Islands Government currently considers the territories to be safe and landings there do not constitute a breach of the ’14-day’ rule.
Another question that will arise for the coming season concerns the reuqirements that will be applied to passengers by ship operators. Some operators have already announced that only passengers with proof of vaccination can board. But a generally valid strategy is not (yet) available.
The regulations, which come into force in October, also include allowing friends of residents of the islands to enter the Falklands if they are “sponsored” by a resident. This means that visitors must be admitted to their host and follow the quarantine regulations. Previously, foreigners were only allowed to enter the country for important reasons (business, systemic) if they could simultaneously present their own specified quarantine location. For ExCo chairman Mark Pollard, the new rules represent a first step towards opening up the islands. “The decision to make these two additions to the visitor policy were taken followinga great deal of consideration. It was therefore agreed that with the extra layer of protection that comes from having the vast majority of our community fully vacciniated, it is time that we start to slowly loosen restrictions to visitors,” he explains in the message. But addressing the expedition vessels, he goes on to explain, “This will mark the start of a very small tourist season that many operators here have missed. But I want to make it very clear to the public that the health and safety of our community remains at the forefront of our minds and should we again need to tighten our policies we can and will do so without hesitation.”
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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