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Merchants Hopeful Return of Cruise Ships Will Spark COVID Recovery

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A record number of cruise ships is expected to resume calling at the Port of San Francisco in compliance with public health mandates, according to an announcement made Friday by Mayor London Breed.

The first vessel to call on the Port of San Francisco will be the Majestic Princess arriving on Monday. A spokesperson for the cruise ship said it'll carry more than 2,200 passengers when it docks.

Passengers were expected to empty the ship to shop and dine in San Francisco on Monday and early Tuesday. That's not all, on Wednesday, two more cruise ships will be sailing into the Port of San Francisco.

That's great news for Mac Leibert, who owns Pier 23 Cafe, which is located right next to the cruise dock.

"We're doing about half the business we used to do," said Leibert. "Hopefully, it will be a big boost. We'll take what we can get."

Struggling merchants in Chinatown were also anticipating a boost in business.

"It's good news for us," said Edward Siu, chairman of the Chinatown Merchants United Association of San Francisco. "I believe it's good news for everyone in San Francisco. Chinatown will have a lot of tourists coming in. It's really, really encouraging,"

The port is expecting 21 cruise calls through the remainder of 2021, with a record 127 calls already scheduled in 2022.

"I am so excited to welcome cruises back to our Port, and visitors back to our city," Mayor Breed said in the release. "Tourism is a critical part of our City's economy, helping to pay for important services that allow us to take care of our most vulnerable residents. This announcement is just another example of our city coming back to life and emerging from this pandemic stronger than ever before."

San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney called the return just a further sign of the city's continuing recovery from the economic woes of the COVID pandemic.

"It's a symbol of business and visitors returning," he said. "But it's more than a symbol, it's folks who are actually going to be able to save businesses."

Travel experts said there shouldn't be any safety concerns. Most, if not all cruises require passengers to be fully vaccinated and show a negative Covid test before boarding. Passengers with vaccination exemptions have to do regular testing while on board.

"It's more safe for someone to come into San Francisco on a cruise ship, because we know they've been tested, we know they've been vaccinated, and we know that they have all these protocols, than if somebody just drives across the (Oakland/San Francisco) bridge," said Joe D'Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Travel Association.

The reopening of the Port of San Francisco comes over a year and a half after one of the earliest COVID outbreaks centered around the Grand Princess, which departed San Francisco for the Mexican Riviera.

READ MORE Complete Coverage Of Grand Princess COVID Outbreak

The Grand Princess captured the world's attention and made the coronavirus real to millions in the United States when thousands of passengers on were quarantined as the ship idled off the California coast.

Worried about the virus, officials blocked the ship carrying 2,400 passengers and 1,100 crew members from anchoring at its home port of San Francisco. Then President Donald Trump said he didn't want the passengers to disembark on American soil "because I like the numbers being where they are," but he eventually yielded to health officials' advice.

Ultimately, more than 100 people who were on the ship were infected with the coronavirus. At least eight died.

The mayor's office noted that the safe return of cruise ships is an important component to the city and port's economic recovery as well as the revitalization of San Francisco's tourism and hospitality sectors. According to the release, each cruise call brings thousands of passengers and crew members to the city and waterfront that support small and family-owned businesses that have been hard hit by COVID-19.

In 2019 before the pandemic shutdown in March of the following year, San Francisco welcomed 280,000 cruise visitors, contributing $27 million to the city's economy.

Cruise operations are resuming safely in strict compliance with all applicable CDC rules and regulations. Additionally, individual cruise lines calling at the Port of San Francisco have each established agreements with the San Francisco Department of Public Health that exceed CDC COVID-19 guidelines. Passengers and crew members are vaccinated per CDC guidelines and each cruise line has vessel specific health guidelines to ensure the safety of all people on board, as well as terminal workers and members of the public.

"Our City has shown that with high levels of vaccinations and the right safety protocols in place, we can open up businesses and bring back tourism while mitigating the spread of COVID-19," said Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax. "The return of passenger cruises to San Francisco is another step forward in that direction."

The Port of San Francisco's Cruise Terminals at Pier 27 and Pier 35 are also rolling out new COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of staff, passengers, and the public. Passengers embarking and disembarking will be staggered to minimize passenger congregation. Masks will be required indoors throughout cruise terminals, which also feature a touchless environment.

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