UNITED STATES —The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday, Oct. 30, the lifting of the “no sail order” —which prohibited cruise lines from operating in U.S. waters— and released a framework to resume the operation of passenger cruises.
The new “conditional sailing” order that was issued Friday establishes a phased approach to restart cruising. It includes items that the industry must follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships and from cruise ships to communities. The CDC said this order applies to ships that carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
“This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing. It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield. “CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers.”
In the initial phases, cruise ship operators need to follow safety protocols such as testing, quarantine, isolation and social distancing, while they are building the laboratory capacity to test crew members and passengers. In following phases, there will be mock voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test if there is a mitigation of COVID-19 exposure as a result of the practices of the cruise ships operators. Ships that meet specific requirements will be certified, and the return of passengers to voyages will be phased as well.
In these phases, the CDC will also update its color-coding system to indicate the status of a ship and it will update the form that collects COVID-19 data to prepare surveillance among passengers.
The “no sail” order, issued by the CDC on March 14, prevented ships from sailing as there is evidence to believe that cruise ship travel increases the risk of coronavirus transmission, even if they operate at a reduced capacity. After months without operating, cruise industry leaders Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. created a panel of experts called “The Healthy Sail Panel” and submitted a report on Sept. 21 to the CDC that included what they believed were the best practices to protect the health and safety of all passengers and communities where cruise ships call. The panel was made up of experts in public health, infectious disease, biosecurity, epidemiology, hospitality, and maritime operations. In the report, they focused on the following areas: testing, screening, exposure reduction, sanitation, ventilation, response, contingency, planning, execution, destination planning and mitigation risk for crew members.
With the “conditional sailing” order announced by the CDC, cruise lines started considering how they would implement the new conditions for sailing in their restart of operations. Royal Caribbean International commented on the released framework.
“Today’s announcement establishes a pathway for our ships to return to service, and that’s an important step in the right direction,” said Royal Caribbean International in a statement. “While we are eager to welcome our guests back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we’re committed to taking the time to do things right. This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions.”
Carnival, another cruise line that has had to cancel several sailing due to the pandemic and the “no sail” order, said they are evaluating the framework the CDC released to see how they can follow it in their plans to restart voyages.
“Carnival Cruise Line will continue to work with the CDC on an eventual return to guest cruise operations,” Carnival said in a statement. “We are evaluating the CDC’s new order that sets out the conditions under which cruising can resume, but there are a significant number of requirements that must be evaluated in the context of our plans to resume operations. We ask our guests, travel advisors and community and destination partners for their patience as we complete our review. We are committed to communicating more details as soon as possible.”
The new sailing order will remain in effect until the CDC director modifies it, until COVID-19 is not a public health emergency anymore, or until Nov. 1, 2021 —whatever happens first. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/quarantine/cruise.