The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) new COVID-19 programme for foreign flagged cruise ships operating in US waters has been lambasted by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
CDC’s latest announcement made on 9th February is only a recommendation, but all cruise lines wishing to sign up to the programme should do so by the 18th February, it said.
In a nutshell, the CDC said that there will continue to be a colour status system for COVID-19 cases on ships, including new categories for on board vaccination levels, the need for a COVID-19 response plan, enhanced on board testing and quarantine protocols for symptomatic cases, data reporting on a daily basis, port authority health and other documentation, availability of both shore side and on board testing, PPE requirements on board, plus other recommendations.
Analysing the recommendations, a major change is that there is now a requirement that for a person testing positive on board, he or she will not be re-tested for a possible false result and will have to be immediately isolated with the possibility of being quarantined for up to 10 days, which also includes all those who are suspected of being in close contact with that person.
In addition, anybody on board who shows COVID-19 like symptoms should also be immediately isolated.
Cruise lines who chose to follow this advice will be required to adhere to all of them as a condition of their participation and will not be allowed to select certain recommendations to follow, the CDC stressed.
CLIA argued that the protocols adopted by every cruise line member remain way above those of other industries.
Cruise lines are a model for adopting and employing highly effective, layered mitigation measures and have proven their effectiveness in a way that is unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.
Unlike any other travel, tourism, hospitality, or entertainment sector, cruise ships test all persons boarding, have medical, isolation and quarantine facilities on site, implement extensive response plans using only private shoreside resources and have created an environment where almost every single person is fully vaccinated.
As a result, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of COVID-positive cases, with hospitalisations being extraordinarily rare – some 80 times lower than on land in the US, CLIA claimed.
Compared to all the other sectors, which, ironically, are much larger, cater to magnitudes more patrons and operate many more conveyances and facilities without testing and at only a fraction of the cruise industry’s vaccination rates, cruising has emerged as the safest venue for mitigating COVID-19.
Regrettably, upon initial review, the latest CDC guidance appears out of step with the actual public health conditions on cruise ships and is unnecessary in light of societies trends away from more restrictive measures, CLIA said in the statement.
“We are confounded by the CDC’s imposition of even more complex and unwarranted measures, which ignore empirical evidence that the industry’s protocols have provided a greater level of COVID mitigation than most any other setting.
“The CDC’s guidance for multi-tiered cruises is counter productive to consumers, creating market confusion between the various tiers and is potentially unworkable in practice.
“CLIA and its members are fervently devoted to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting passengers, crew and the public against any adverse health consequences. The record of this unwavering commitment is extensive and irrefutable,” the association stressed
“Against this backdrop, we continue to be dismayed by the CDC’s decision to maintain any ‘Travel Health Notice’ for cruising. CDC has long recognised the paramount importance of vaccination in protecting against COVID-19 and the vaccination rate on cruise ships is close to 100%, whereas on land it is only about 63%.
“It seems unnecessarily discriminatory against cruise to maintain that the chances of getting COVID-19 on a cruise ‘is very high’ even if the COVID-19 vaccines are up-to-date. This discounts the importance of what the CDC has otherwise promoted as the single most important touchstone for public health and safety.
“The cruise industry remains one of the most highly regulated sectors even after the expiration of the ‘Conditional Sailing Order’. CLIA cruise line members will continue to comply with all applicable regulations. CLIA and its members are committed to continue working with the CDC in mutual, co-operative partnership, as part of our shared commitment to putting health and safety first.
“Part and parcel of that goal is seeing signals from CDC that it recognises the lengths the entire cruise industry has gone to and the success it has achieved, in guarding against COVID-19,” CLIA concluded.