A letter sent to the cruise industry by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 28th April said a mid-July start up was possible, provided certain requirements are met.
The letter was first shared by USA Today, and provides a much more realistic outlook for cruise ships to sail in the US, Royal Caribbean said in a blog.
Signed by the CDC’s head of the Maritime Unit, Aimee Treffiletti, it read, “We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission on board cruise ships and across port communities”
A CDC spokesperson then confirmed to USA Today that cruises might be able to start up by mid-July, “CDC looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and urges cruise lines to submit Phase 2A port agreements as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July.”
Also included in the news report are five points of clarification that give cruise lines better insight into the CDC’s expectations for a restart:
- Ships can bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
- CDC will review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within five days, a review previously expected to take 60 days.
- CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew on sailings with paying passengers to align with the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people. So, for example, instead of taking a PCR lab test ahead of boarding vaccinated passengers can take a rapid antigen test upon embarkation.
- CDC has clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a ‘multi-port agreement’ rather than a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement.
- The CDC has clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19. For example, local passengers may be able to drive home and passengers who have travelled by air to cruise may quarantine in a hotel.
Pressure has been mounting across different platforms to give cruise lines a chance to resume sailing. Lawsuits, new legislation, and a vigorous write-in campaign have been some of the new initiatives thrown at the CDC after months of inaction by the agency, Royal Caribbean said
This updated information contained in the letter follows criticism on the CDC after they released updated technical guidance for its Framework for Conditional Sailing on 1st April.
The new guidance was largely seen as lacking and impractical. CLIA called it, “unduly burdensome, largely unworkable”.
Moreover, it seemed the CDC is still adhering to a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to Covid that so many others facets of life have adopted.
In the new communication, the clause that allows cruise ships to bypass the test cruises if they have 95% fully vaccinated passengers and 98% fully vaccinated crew members is a change.
So far, Royal Caribbean has not made a decision whether it will require vaccination for all of its ships, although its fleet sailing this summer around the Caribbean and Europe will require it, the blog said.