Fears COP26 cruise ships could spark a new wave of infections

Cruise ships used to house conference staff during COP26 could cause Covid outbreaks and prompt a new wave of infections, public health experts have warned.

Two huge vessels will be berthed on the River Clyde to provide accommodation for workers during the climate summit, which will attract about 25,000 delegates to Glasgow.Scottish Government adviser and public health professor Devi Sridhar previously called cruise ships floating "germ factories" and urged holidaymakers to avoid them.COP26 organisers have sourced two ships from an Estonian operator to provide accommodation for "security and production staff" amid a shortage of hotel rooms and soaring room rates in Glasgow.Tallink's MS Romantika, which has capacity for 2,500 people, has already berthed at King George V dock, next to Braehead Shopping Centre in Renfrew. A second cruise ship, MS Silja Europa, will provide 3,123 more beds. Shuttle buses will take those on board to and from the summit.Dr Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at Edinburgh University, said: "Cruise ships are likely places with high transmission of Covid because of enclosed spaces, especially if there is poor ventilation where people come into close contact. Given how transmissible the delta variant is, even to vaccinated individuals there will be risks. So lots of testing is going to be important."Professor Andrew Watterson, an expert in public health at Stirling University, added: "Much more information needs to be provided to reassure the population of Glasgow and the visitors that there will be no increased Covid risk to either group from the use of cruise ships."If the cruise ship occupants come from all over the world, and if there are not rigorous requirements on vaccination and testing along with on-board Covid mitigation measures, the cruise ships could prove to be sources of significant virus transmission in the city. Being in the one port for several days with ship occupants possibly moving around the central belt and beyond may present unusual Covid control challenges.”COP26 said the Scottish Government and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde were consulted about the cruise ships plan and a rigorous Covid testing system will be in place.NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "We have been working with event organisers for some time to ensure COP26 can proceed with as little detriment to the current public health situation."As ever, we will need everyone to play their part in reducing any potential impact on our health and care services. This includes regular lateral flow tests, when you have no symptoms, to help combat the spread of Covid, social distancing where possible, and good hand hygiene."If anyone has Covid symptoms, they should self-isolate immediately and arrange to take a PCR test."The Scottish Government said: "We expect all hotel accommodation providers for COP26 to follow the relevant Scottish Government guidance for Covid-19 mitigation."Tallink said: "All our crew ­members are vaccinated, they were PCR tested before travelling to the UK, they wear face masks and, in some key areas, gloves. They will also be taking regular lateral flow testing throughout the whole charter. All crew are in single cabins. Plexi-glass partitions are in place at key customer service points, rigorous cleaning and sanitising is taking place on board with sanitising ­stations all around the ship."

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COP26 will officially begin on Sunday October 31