On 18th March, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed a few protocols on its requirements for cruise ships sailing in US water.
All the cruise lines operating in the US are operating under the CDC’s Covid-19 Programme for Cruise Ships, which is a series of regulations that govern COVID-19 protocols on board, Royal Caribbean explained in a blog.
Over the last few weeks, the CDC has rolled back many Covid-19 protocols surrounding the operation of cruise ships, including twice lowering the warning level for cruise ship travel.
In its latest move, the CDC changed three rules that make things easier for the cruise lines.
First, cruise ship operators may resume interactive experiences, such as galley tours and cooking classes.
Until now, these on board activities were prohibited, such as interactive cooking, culinary workshops and demonstrations, mixology/blending classes and galley and other behind the scenes tours.
With this change, the requirements for food services for cruise ships operating under the CDC’s classification of highly vaccinated ships, become recommendations instead of requirements.
Second, if a traveller identified as a close contact is leaving the ship within 36 hours, the cruise line may allow he or she to stay in the original cabin if the traveller will be the only person in that cabin.
Previously, they would have been moved to quarantined area of the ship with special cabins for someone confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19.
Third, the CDC also revised the requirements cruise lines must have with the ports their ships sail from. Specifically, the CDC modified port agreements, removing ship and capacity limits at ports.
Following the announcement, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a statement saying that these revisions are “welcome changes.”
“CLIA cruise line members continue to lead the way in unmatched health and safety measures compared to virtually any other commercial setting.
“The updates announced acknowledge the effectiveness of the cruise lines in their ability to create an environment that provides one of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation and reflect the improvements in the public health landscape.
“CLIA member cruise lines will continue to operate in a way that prioritises the health and safety of everyone on board, as well as the communities that we visit,” CLIA said.
A day or so earlier, the CDC had lowered its cruising risk assessment.
Cruise ships are now considered to be at Level 2 with ‘moderate’ levels of COVID-19.
They were lowered from Level 4 (high risk) to Level 3 (medium risk) status in mid-February having been at the high level since December last year.
However, the CDC still advised passengers to get fully vaccinated before joining a cruise ship and take other precautionary measures, such as wearing face masks indoors (outside of their cabins) and in crowded outdoor spaces.
Anybody who is not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, should avoid cruise ship travel, the CDC said, adding that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is ‘moderate’, even if a person is up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.
CLIA said that the CDC’s decision to lower the Travel Health Notice recognised current public health conditions, as well as the robust mitigation measures in place on cruise ships.
The association added that it looked forward to the Travel Health Notice being removed for cruise ships as soon as possible and for cruising to be recognised as setting a high bar for providing a vacation choice with comprehensive set of science-backed protocols that span the entirety of the cruise experience.
Travellers are encouraged to be mindful of changing conditions and check their cruise ship’s colour code and vaccination status before departing. Colour codes, for cruises that opted into the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), indicate whether the number of COVID cases reported on a given ship merit CDC investigation.
The CSO is voluntary. Vessels operating in US waters and sailing international itineraries that choose not to participate will be classified as ‘gray’ on the health agency’s Cruise Ship Colour Status’ website to indicate that the centre has not reviewed the health and safety protocols put in place by the ship’s operator.
Cruise ships that opt-out and but only sail in US waters will not be listed, the CDC said.