The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has renewed its ‘No-Sail Order’ through October 3, following reports that the White House had overruled a longer extension.
In a 29-page report, the CDC said: “Cruise ships continue to be an unsafe environment with close quarters where the disease spreads easily and is not readily detected.”
It added that cumulative CDC data from March 1 through September 28, 2020, showed a total of 3,689 confirmed cases of COVID-19 or COVID-like illness cases on cruise ships and 41 deaths. It said that data have also revealed a total of 102 outbreaks on 124 different cruise ships, meaning more than 82% of ships within U.S. jurisdiction were affected by COVID-19 during this time frame. In addition, the CDC noted, four cruise ships still have ongoing or resolving COVID-19 outbreaks on board.
Reduced capacity has not diminished transmission
Despite a successful return to cruising in Europe, the CDC said “Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas continue to demonstrate that reduced capacity alone has not diminished transmission.”
It is unclear from the document what the CDC is referring to as cruise operations have resumed with double buffer pre-board testing for COVID-19 in Italy, Germany and Greece without any known cases so far. MSC Cruises flagship MSC Grandiosa has already sailed successfully several times from Genoa since becoming the first to operate the double-testing protocol.
Is the cruise industry being treated unfairly?
The statement is likely to lead to renewed claims that the CDC is treating the cruise industry unfairly when compared to other travel industries such as flight.
Earlier this month at a meeting that included senior executives from the world’s four largest cruise lines, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio said: “Enough is enough, I want someone to tell me how it’s possible that COVID-19 transmission doesn’t occur on airplanes when you’re sitting four inches away from someone in a middle seat, yet it happens on a ship that is nearly 200,000 tons… It is unconscionable what’s happened to the cruise industry.”
The statement that reduced capacity has not reduced transmissions also comes as a blow to the cruise industry after Barclays analyst Felicia Hendrix said earlier this week that while she did not believe the CDC would lift the order, it may make positive comments on a resumption of operations.
“While chances are high (in our view) that the CDC extends the date again (likely into 4Q20), we believe the comments from the agency will be positive and could signal a near-term return to cruise,” said Hendrix.
CDC wanted longer No-sail order, but White House overruled
The confirmation comes after various media reported Tuesday and Wednesday that the CDC had wanted to extend the ban into next year, but was overruled by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
USA Today said Wednesday that it had been told by “a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly” that the CDC had wanted to extend the no-sail order through to February 15, 2021, but in the end a compromise was reached on October 31.
On Tuesday, Axios reported that Vice President Mike Pence had overruled CDC Director Robert Redfield, who had pushed for a longer extension due to the ‘virus’ severity and the vulnerability for spread on cruises.’
Axios quoted a White House official as saying that the task force expects the industry to submit a plan by October 31 to show that “ships can sail in a safe and responsible manner and that the companies assume the burden of dealing with any possible outbreaks.”
The Axios report went on to say that cruise industry representatives would be meeting with the White House on Friday to present their plans to enable a safe return to cruising.
CDC statement in full
The full statement from the CDC reads as follows:
“On September 30, 2020, CDC extended the No-Sail Order and Suspension of Further Embarkation; Third Modification and Extension of No-Sail Order and Other Measures Related to Operations that was issued on July 16, 2020. The Order is effective upon signature and will be published in the Federal Register soon.
This Order is in effect until one of the following occurs:
- The expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency,
- The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations, or
- October 31, 2020.”