The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ended its voluntary Covid-19 programme on 18th July.
Instead, the CDC will now take a general approach to providing health and safety guidance to the cruising sector, similar to how it provides guidance to all other travel sectors, Royal Caribbean explained in a blog.
As for cruise line protocols, it’s important to emphasise that nothing has changed yet, RCI stressed.
Most cruise lines protocols still include vaccination and testing requirements. However, the cruise lines now have the freedom to choose their own protocols, due to the end of the voluntary Covid-19 programme.
This is a welcome change for the cruise lines, as the CDC will not replace the voluntary programme with anything else. It represents a step towards a new normal for the cruise industry, which had been strictly regulated by the CDC since the onset of the pandemic, RCI said.
Shortly after the CDC made the announcement, the cruise industry showed a positive reaction to the news.
For example, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released a statement fully supporting the CDC’s decision to end the programme.
In a statement, CLIA said: “The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and its member cruise lines welcome the decision by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to end the CDC COVID-19 Programme for Cruise Ships operating in US Waters in favour of a set of guidelines for public health operations on cruise ships.”
The association said it looked forward to reviewing the new guidance details that will be posted on the CDC website in the coming days.
CLIA continued, “This is an important step forward in the CDC aligning the guidelines for cruises with those it has established for other travel, hospitality, and entertainment sectors.
“The sun setting of the CDC Programme, effective 18th July, 2022, is a testament to the effectiveness of the industry’s comprehensive and robust protocols.
“In fact, cruising has become one of the safest forms of travel and among the most successful industries in mitigating the spread and severity of COVID-19, resulting in few passengers or crew becoming seriously ill or requiring hospitalisation, compared to hospital statistics for landside patients,” CLIA said.
CDC’s voluntary Covid-19 programme was implemented at the expiration of the ‘Conditional Sail Order’, which expired in January this year.
During this time, the new omicron variant had been running rampant throughout the US and cruise lines were navigating the spread of a more contagious variant both on land and at sea.
The expiration of the programme marks the start of a new era for the cruise lines, in which they can establish their own set of health and safety protocols, RCI said.
Under the CDC’s voluntary Covid-19 programme, cruise lines had the option to opt into three separate programmes voluntarily – Not Highly Vaccinated, Highly Vaccinated and Vaccination Standard of Excellence.
RCI joined the ‘highly-vaccinated programme’, which required 95% of passengers on each sailing to be fully vaccinated. In addition, the programme required that 95% of the cruise ship’s crew be fully vaccinated.
The ‘highly vaccinated programme’, along with its policies and protocols, went into effect on 25th February, 2022.
By adapting the ‘highly vaccinated programme’, passengers on Royal Caribbean’s sailings were no longer required to wear masks on board. Instead, the cruise lines shifted their policies to masks being optional for passengers.
This was a welcomed change for RCI cruisers, as masks were previously required indoors during any period in which passengers were not eating or drinking actively, the cruise company said.
The CDC required cruise lines that opted into the programme to provide vaccination status for each participating cruise ship. The 95% threshold for vaccination was also required for every single voyage on each participating cruise ship.
Participating ships were also required to document, surveillance and report on board Covid-19 cases for each sailing to the CDC. Using this data, the CDC established a colour-coding system to designate the spread of Covid-19 on each ship, which was published on a public dashboard.
This has now been discontinued.
The end of the CDC’s voluntary Covid-19 programme reflects the travel industry’s overall shift towards managing Covid-19 as a new normal, RCI concluded.