Richard Branson’s timing could not have been worse. It was February 2020 and the first of his new Virgin cruise fleet was sailing across the Atlantic to start her maiden voyage when a then-mysterious and deadly virus halted the industry.

Coronavirus had broken out on a ship of rival cruise line Carnival and was sweeping through its guests. Stricken passengers were photographed peering out of portholes as the  media branded cruise ships “floating Petri dishes”. Governments barred them from landing at their ports. The Virgin ship, Scarlet Lady, doubled back to where she was built in Genoa, which is where she has remained since...

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