The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended the ’No Sail Order’ for cruise ships by a month through 31st October, 2020.
This long awaited order continues to suspend passenger operations on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 pax in waters subject to US jurisdiction.
Cumulative surveillance data reported to CDC from 1st March through 29th September, 2020, showed at least 3,689 COVID-19 or COVID-like illness cases on cruise ships in US waters, in addition to at least 41 reported deaths.
However, the CDC said that it recognised that these numbers were likely incomplete and underestimated.
Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas provided evidence that cruise ship travel continued to transmit and amplify the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,—even when ships sail at reduced pax capacities—and would likely spread the infection into US communities if passenger operations were to resume prematurely in the US, the Centre said.
The challenges described in the ‘No Sail Order’ highlighted the need for further action before cruise ships can safely resume passenger operations in the US.
Recent passenger voyages in foreign countries continued to see outbreaks, despite cruise ship operators having extensive health and safety protocols in place to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on board and spread to communities where passengers disembark.
When health and safety protocols were apparently observed, resuming passenger operations significantly burdened public health authorities by creating the need for additional SARS-CoV-2 testing, isolation of infected travellers, contact tracing, and quarantine of exposed people.
The continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, risk of resurgence in countries that have suppressed transmission, ongoing concerns related to restarting of cruising internationally, and need for additional time to assess industry measures to control potential SARS-CoV-2 transmission on board cruise ships with passengers without burdening public health, support continuation of the ‘No Sail Order’ at this time.
On cruise ships, passengers and crew share spaces that are more crowded than most urban settings. Data showed that when only essential crew are on board, ongoing spread of SARS-CoV-2 still occurred.
If unrestricted cruise ship passenger operations were permitted to resume, passengers and crew on board would be at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and those that work or travel on cruise ships would place substantial unnecessary risk on healthcare workers, port personnel and federal partners (ie Customs and Border Protection and the US Coast Guard), and the communities they return to.
This order will remain in effect until the earliest of:
1. The expiration of the US Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency,
2. The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations, or
3. 31st October, 2020.
In an article appearing in the New York Times, it was claimed that the CDC wanted the ban to last until at least the end of February next year, but political pressure, including from leading Florida State politicians, lobbied to get the ban shortened.