July 26, 2020 / 1:51 PM / 12 days ago

Set sail and social distance: Taiwan resumes ocean cruise amid pandemic

A woman takes a selfie in front of the Explorer Dream cruise ship, in Keelung, Taiwan, July 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

KEELUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) - Taiwan resumed an island-hopping ocean cruise on Sunday, joining a handful of places in the world to restart voyages after the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a virtual standstill.

Some 900 holiday makers are adapting to new safety measures when boarding Genting Hong Kong’s (0678.HK) Explorer Dream embarking from Taiwan’s northern Keelung port. The company now offers trips of up to five days from Taiwan to its scenic outlying islands of Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

The cruise resumption is part of a government effort to boost a tourism industry badly hit by the pandemic. Taiwan has largely closed its borders since mid-March and advised citizens against overseas travel unless absolutely necessary.

James Sun, sales manager of the cruise line, said a sea voyage could satisfy the desire for travel of people who are not permitted to go abroad.

The ship is carrying just a third of its maximum passenger limit, and is equipped with 22 COVID-19 wards to isolate passengers if any fall ill.

The 500-strong crew underwent a 21-day health screening before coming on board. All front-line service staff are required to wear masks and gloves. Buffet service has been dropped, the onboard casino and spa are shut, and dining tables are set apart and divided by screens.

Passengers must keep social distance and have their temperatures checked before coming onboard.

“Due to the coronavirus, we can’t go abroad but I still feel like travelling, so I signed up for the island-hopping trip,” said passenger Cai Jiaru, 22. “I don’t worry about the epidemic too much, because I think it is pretty safe in Taiwan right now.”

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well in hand with only 11 active cases and no local transmission for more than three months due to early and effective prevention.

Reporting by Ann Wang; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Peter Graff

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