CDC alters rules on test sailings, moving cruise lines closer to restart

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Cruise deck [Credit: Yevgen Belich/Shutterstock.com]
The CDC is committing to a mid-July restart for cruise ships from U.S. ports. Photo Credit: Yevgen Belich/Shutterstock.com

Cruise lines can skip test sailings if they attest that 98% of crew and 95% of passengers will be fully vaccinated, the CDC told cruise lines in a letter Wednesday night in which it committed to a mid-July restart from the U.S.

The CDC said the change was the result of twice-weekly meetings with cruise lines over the past month. The CDC's current Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) mandates trial sailing prior to commercial ones in order to test Covid-19 mitigation protocols. The lines would then have to apply for a certificate to sail 60 days prior to launching passenger cruises.

"We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO by midsummer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines," the letter said.

For lines that intend to go forward with the simulated voyages, the CDC on Wednesday said it would now review and respond to applications for those voyages within five days, instead of 60 days. "This puts cruise ships closer to open-water sailing sooner," the CDC said.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley said that as far as Royal understands, "As soon as you have your port plan ready you can submit your request to cruise, and they will respond within five days. You can see the timeline and process has improved quite significantly. 

"Fundamentally they are two pathways," to the resumption of cruising, Bayley said of the latest guidance, adding that the one that meets the CDC's threshold for vaccinated crew and passengers, "is a faster route." 

The mid-July timeline is because of the time it will take to return crew to the ship and complete the crew vaccination process. 

"This commitment to mid-July is looking very realistic based on what we saw last night," Bayley said. 

The CDC also loosened requirements for passenger and crew testing and quarantine. One the first passenger voyages out of the U.S., fully vaccinated passengers can take a rapid test upon embarkation instead of a PCR test, the CDC said, and can quarantine at home if they live within driving distance.

CLIA's senior vice president of global strategic communications, Anne Madison, said CLIA was "encouraged by the communication with the CDC." It is reviewing the latest information, but "we see this as positive progression," she said.

"Importantly, we see this as a demonstrated commitment to having constructive dialogue, which is key to restarting cruising as we have seen with other governments and health authorities around the world," Madison said. "There's still plenty of work to be done to achieve our mutual goal of sailings from U.S. ports this summer . The movement we're seeing through the communication that has been happening of late also shows that the voices of community leaders and the wider cruise community have been heard, and we're very grateful for that."

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