Seven months after it was first imposed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has lifted its No-Sail Order and announced a framework for a phased return of cruise ship passenger operations.
In a statement on its website Friday, the CDC said: “Considering the continued spread of COVID-19 worldwide and increased risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships, a careful approach is needed to safely resume cruise ship passenger operations. CDC is establishing requirements to mitigate the COVID-19 risk to passengers and crew, prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from cruise ships into U.S. communities, and protect public health and safety. After the expiration of CDC’s No Sail Order (NSO) on October 31, 2020, CDC will take a phased approach to resuming cruise ship passenger operations in U.S. waters.”
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Initial phase: testing and additional safeguards for crew
The CDC said initial phases of the resumption would consist of testing and additional safeguards for crew members and that it would ensure cruise ship operators have adequate health and safety protections for crew.
Among the requirements of the phased return, the CDC said cruise ship operators would have to build the laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers.
Simulated voyages to test COVID-19 mitigation
Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and a phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and U.S. communities.
These phases will be subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operators’ demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID- 19 risk, the CDC said.
Framework for Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships
In a document titled “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships” the CDC noted that “unrestricted cruise ship travel would likely exacerbate and amplify the spread of SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) the virus that causes COVID-19…. Current scientific evidence suggests that, absent mitigation measures of the type needed to prevent further transmission, cruise ships would continue to pose a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than other settings.”
The CDC said it had considered continuing to issue No Sail Orders, but had reached the conclusion that this alternative was not as optimal as the current framework.
Cruise operators that fail to implement precautions will not sail
“The benefits of this framework outweigh the costs of not allowing cruise ships to sail because it allows for flexibility where cruise ships have taken the necessary precautions to mitigate risk while continuing to prohibit passenger operations onboard ships that have failed to implement such precautions,” the CDC noted.
It added that the new framework was a tailored approach that allows for individual cruise lines to progress through phases at variable paces.
“This enables cruise lines successfully implementing public health measures to return to passenger operations more quickly while others by necessity may move more slowly. The framework not only encourages cruise lines that are more successful at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 but provides a realistic timeline that anticipates COVID-19 continuing to be present and affecting cruise ship travel,” it added.
Phased return of passengers and crew
The CDC further noted that it intends to take a phased approach to resuming passenger operations. These phases include:
(1) establishment of laboratory testing of crew onboard cruise ships in U.S. waters;
(2) simulated voyages designed to test a cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 on cruise ships;
(3) a certification process;
(4) a return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 introduction, transmission, or spread among passengers and crew onboard ships and ashore to communities.
These phases will be further determined based on public health considerations including the trajectory of COVID-19 transmission and the demonstrated ability of cruise ship operators to successfully employ measures that mitigate the risk of COVID-19, the CDC said.
As part of the initial crew testing phases, the order additionally contains requirements for:
(1) shoreside COVID-19 laboratory screening testing of all crew currently onboard;
(2) onboard diagnostic testing capabilities for symptomatic travelers (crew and future passengers);
(3) shoreside COVID-19 laboratory screening testing of all newly embarking crew;
(4) continued compliance by cruise ship operators with their complete, accurate, and acknowledged, No Sail Order Response Plans.