People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday, but this will not be sufficient for the cruise industry to restart.
Issuing the next phase of its Conditional Sail Order for Cruise Ship Operators, the CDC recommended that all passengers, crew and port personnel be inoculated and said that COVID-19 vaccination efforts would be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations.
However, while fully-vaccinated cruises will commence on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas from Israel in May, and cruises using an enhanced safety protocol have been taking place in Europe for several months, the CDC did not even set a date for when trial cruises could begin.
The guidance issued April 2 requires cruise lines to establish agreements at ports where they intend to operate, implement routine testing of crew, and develop plans incorporating vaccination strategies to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of COVID-19 by crew and passengers.
Key points include:
- Increasing from weekly to daily the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses.
- Implementing routine testing of all crew based on each ship’s color status.
- Updating the color-coding system used to classify ships’ status with respect to COVID-19.
- Decreasing the time needed for a “red” ship to become “green” from 28 to 14 days based on the availability of onboard testing, routine screening testing protocols, and daily reporting.
- Creating planning materials for agreements that port authorities and local health authorities must approve to ensure cruise lines have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on their ships to include healthcare capacity and housing to isolate infected people and quarantine those who are exposed.
- Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and port personnel.
Simulated trial voyages
The next phase of the Conditional Sailing Order will include simulated trial voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers. However no date has been set for the trial sailing to commence.
In a statement, the CDC said it is “committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising when it is safe to do so, following the phased approach outlined in the CSO.
Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the CSO will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.
CDC will continue to update its guidance and recommendations to specify basic safety standards and public health interventions based on the best scientific evidence available.”