Swiss pleasure cruiser turned into vaccine ‘shot ship’ for lakeside towns

Around 20 civil protection workers turned MS Thurgau into a vaccination station Keystone / Alexandra Wey

An 89-year-old passenger ship, out of commission owing to the coronavirus pandemic, has been re-purposed as a Covid-19 vaccination centre for thousands of residents from towns on Lake Constance.

This content was published on February 3, 2021 - 11:15

The 500-passenger MS Thurgau normally carries tourists and commuters between Swiss and German towns on Europe’s third-largest lake. In coming weeks it will serve as a floating inoculation hub for northern Swiss towns Romanshorn, Arbon and Kreuzlingen.

Regional officials emphasised the ship’s practicality since it can sail from harbour to harbour, earning it the nickname “vaccine vaporetto”, referring to Venice’s water buses, with some locals.

“I’ve heard of a fondue ship and a spaghetti ship, but this is my first shot ship,” Switzerland’s Interior Minister Alain Berset told reporters on Tuesday just after the first people to be vaccinated walked the gangway.

Switzerland reported just over 1,600 new infections on Tuesday, bringing its total to 526,000, with the cases of fast-spreading variants doubling every week. Nearly 8,800 people have died. Switzerland has a population of 8.6 million.

Aboard MS Thurgau there are two shot stations capable of vaccinating 24 people per hour – one every five minutes – or 168 people daily during a seven-hour shift.

As more vaccines arrive in Switzerland, stations can be expanded to eight.

Keystone / Alexandra Wey

Moderna shots

For the first week, the ship will be in Romanshorn, a historic lakeside grain trading centre, followed by two weeks in larger Kreuzlingen.

After another week in nearby Arbon, the vessel will make the return voyage to Romanshorn, so those inoculated earlier can get a required booster shot.

Only Moderna shots are being used aboard the MS Thurgau, since the ten-dose vials are slightly easier to prepare in the ship’s cramped quarters, medics said.

The canton of Thurgau initially considered creating vaccine centres aboard buses, but eventually opted for the idled pleasure cruiser.

“We wanted to figure out just how we could vaccinate as many people as possible, with as few vaccination centres as were necessary,” said Urs Martin, a Thurgau elected official.

Tourism-reliant region

Like elsewhere in Europe, the tourism-reliant Lake Constance region has been broadsided by the pandemic.

A border fence temporarily erected between adjacent towns of Konstanz in Germany and Kreuzlingen in Switzerland last year divided families, friends and lovers for weeks.

The initial round of shots aboard the MS Thurgau is planned for the next 12 weeks, said Adriano Mari, leader for all of Thurgau’s vaccination centres run by private hospital group Hirslanden, a unit of South Africa-based Mediclinic.

He hopes an extension beyond this maiden voyage won’t be necessary.

“Hopefully by then things will have eased and the ship can return to carrying passengers on its regular route,” Mari said.

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