What measures has Mercy Ships taken to mitigate risks of infection for crew and patients?
- Guidelines for quarantine and contact restrictions upon arrival
- Mandatory COVID testing upon arrival, and further surveillance testing as needed
- Mandatory facemask policy and social distancing for both crew, patients, and their caregivers
- Reduction of crew per cabin (maximum of four)
- Limiting or prohibiting guests onboard and at programmatic locations ashore
- Reduction in number of planned surgeries and programmatic output for Senegal field service in 2022
- Addition of an Infection Preventionist onboard
Is the COVID vaccine required before joining?
All crew joining in any low-to-middle income* country (i.e., Senegal 2022) must be fully-vaccinated** against COVID-19.
*Low to Middle Income Countries as defined by the World Bank
**Fully vaccinated is defined as 14 days past your last dose of a WHO-approved vaccine
For those only joining us for our operational periods in Europe (i.e. Belgium or Spain), the vaccine is highly recommended, but not required.
Should I expect to quarantine? What about COVID testing?
Quarantine requirements vary depending on where you are joining, where you are coming from, and your vaccination status. All crew must also submit to testing upon arrival and surveillance testing throughout their service.
For anyone required to quarantine, whether in a hotel or onboard, we ensure you are properly looked after. Meals, internet, a safe time to take exercise outside, and other accommodations are all considered. Quarantine is arranged and paid for by Mercy Ships. Any crew required to quarantine will be monitored by the crew clinic.
For crew serving in the Canary Islands, Spain – Quarantine is not currently required for full-vaccinated crew. Testing upon arrival is required.
Unvaccinated crew will quarantine in a local hotel for ten days and may come onboard after a negative test result.
For crew serving in Belgium – Quarantine is required of all crew arriving from certain, higher-risk countries. Other testing requirements exist by local law, and all crew are required to submit to surveillance testing. Refer to the table in this guide for a breakdown of requirements by the traveler’s country.
Will I have to wear a facemask?
Yes, all crew must always wear a facemask unless inside their own cabin or sitting down to eat a meal. Masks can also be removed if the crewmember is in an office space alone, with the door closed.
Once back in Senegal, patients and their caregivers will also be required to wear facemasks.
Are facemasks provided? If not, how many should I bring?
Mercy Ships does not provide facemasks to crew, with the exception of one-use surgical facemasks for the medical teams to be worn during the performance of their duties.
Crew should bring at least seven, 2+ layered facemasks that are washable.
Will I have to socially distance from other crew?
Yes, a much as possible, crew are encouraged to maintain a physical distance of 2 meters from other crewmembers. To accommodate physical distancing while not compromising attendance and access, we’ve begun streaming our regular crew meetings to cabins and public areas on board if there is not enough space in the conference room or meeting lounge.
Is there COVID testing offered onboard?
Currently, we are able to take test samples that are then sent to a local lab for results. However, we will have the capability for full-cycle testing in Senegal.
Tests are administered upon a volunteer’s arrival, intermittently and as needed for surveillance testing, and before a volunteer departs (as this is often a requirement to travel home!).
What happens if a crewmember gets COVID while onboard, and where would they be treated?
Any COVID-positive crew will be placed in a designated quarantine cabin or a hotel for a minimum of ten days and will be monitored by our crew clinic team. If someone develops an infection requiring hospitalization, we plan to treat our crew unless their condition requires care that would be better served in a local institution. We are very confident of the capacity and level of care of the facilities in Belgium, Spain, and Senegal should they be needed.
Those identified as close contacts to the COVID-positive crew will be placed in quarantine for 7-14 days and would be tested and monitored during that time. If there was evidence of significant community transmission onboard, additional mitigation measures would be put in place.
Does the Evacuation and Repatriation (E&R) insurance provided by Mercy Ships cover me if I am sick with COVID?
All crew are automatically enrolled in an evacuation and repatriation insurance policy through Talent Trust. Coverage for evacuation or repatriation due to COVID is included and covered in this policy. However, medical E&R is still subject to the governing travel regulations for any given country – meaning a COVID-positive patient can only be evacuated to a country that is allowing entry to COVID-positive travelers.
Does Mercy Ships offer any incentives for volunteers coming in 2021?
We know the last 18+ months has been challenging for many and flying across the world to volunteer may be more difficult than usual! To reduce a few barriers for volunteers this year, we have waived crew fees through the end of 2021 for all crew.
What COVID-related expenses does Mercy Ships cover for volunteers?
Mercy Ships covers:
- Quarantine expenses
- Any testing expenses incurred once onboard
Mercy Ships does not cover:
- pre-travel testing expenses
- post-service quarantine expenses*
- vaccination expenses
*Mercy Ships will not cover those costs, however, there may be support available from the local Mercy Ships offices to cover these expenses for citizens & residents from their countries.
Can I go off the ship for fun? If so, where?
For crew serving in the Canary Islands, Spain – unfortunately, shore leave can be limited and can be limited to certain areas of the island and abiding by all local COVID ordinances.
For crew serving in Belgium – crew will have shore leave and are free to explore Antwerp and the surrounding areas in their free time, abiding by all local COVID ordinances.
For crew serving in Senegal – crew will have shore leave; however, this will be limited, and subject to change as leadership monitors the local infection rates. In general, these carefully considered locations would not be crowded and represent minimal health and/or safety risks.
How much interaction is there with the local population while in Senegal?
Normally, our crew have plenty of opportunities to interact with the local population of our host country. Of course, this is not a normal period! Here’s how it may be limited in Senegal:
- Day Crew – Mercy Ships typically employs roughly 200 local professionals to come alongside us while in field service, doing numerous different things – translation, cooking, transportation – you name it. We couldn’t do what we do without these dedicated “Day Crew”. We do plan to hire Day Crew in Senegal; however, we plan to utilize fewer than we would normally.
The Day Crew will be performing their typical key functions and will be managed by each team as usual. However, we will try to reduce interactions between Day Crew and crew while in Senegal.
- There will be intermittent COVID-19 testing for our Day Crew.
- Any Day Crew that may contract or have been directly exposed to COVID-19 will be quarantined in their homes until a negative COVID-19 test can be presented. Any crew identified in subsequent contact tracing will also be informed and quarantined.
- via Mercy Ministries – our Mercy Ministries programs allow crew to become involved with initiatives ashore alongside local partners. There will be no Mercy Ministries as in this field service as we need to minimize the contact between the local community and our crew. While we want our crew to be engaged in the local communities, our primary goal is the health and safety of our crew, patients, and the communities we serve. While opportunities ashore are restricted, we will monitor the local situation and present crew with safe options for community engagement.
- Patient visitations – Access to the hospital wards and our HOPE Center is likely to be restricted to official business in these areas but will be adjusted based on the changing COVID-19 situation and the level of crew vaccination.
General shore leave / local interaction – crew will have shore leave; however, this will be limited, and subject to change as leadership monitors the local infection rates. In general, these carefully considered locations would not be crowded and represent minimal health and/or safety risks.
How often does Mercy Ships review their COVID protocols and plans to keep crew and patients safe?
Mercy Ships leadership reviews the protocols, regulations, and guidelines every day. We stay on top of any changes – be it infection rates, international travel issues, guidance from WHO and other trusted organizations, and closer to “home” – what’s going on onboard! We weigh each decision and change carefully. Our commitment to keeping our crew and patients safe and healthy is the driving force of all decisions.
Where can I read more about the specific protocols Mercy Ships has developed to protect crew and patients from COVID-19?
After volunteers have received their official offer letters to join, they will be granted access to Navigator, our organizational intranet. Detailed policies, protocols, guidelines, and other information can be found there. Additionally, all volunteers are required to sign a COVID Acknowledgment Form to confirm they understand the protocols, regulations, testing requirements, and risks associated with volunteering during this season.