Cruise industry feels unfairly singled out by CDC's Covid warning

T0809OASISOFTHESEAS2021_C_HR [credit: Royal Caribbean International]
Royal Caribbean acknowledged that the omicron variant had increased cases onboard ships, but that the vast majority of those cases "had no symptoms or only mild symptoms." Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean
Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

The cruise industry is hitting back at what CLIA called the "perplexing" decision to raise the travel warning for cruise ships to Level 4, directing Americans not to cruise

"The decision … is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard -- far fewer than on land -- and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore," the association said in a statement. 

"No setting can be immune from this virus -- however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus. Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel, and significantly lower incidence rates than land."

CLIA used a host of data to back its assertions, including that vaccination rates onboard cruise ships are upwards of 95%  -- significantly higher than the overall U.S. population which is about 62% -- and that cruise is also the only industry in the U.S. travel and tourism sector that requires both vaccinations and testing for crew and guests.  

"The latest data show that even with higher rates of testing, the cruise industry continues to achieve significantly lower rates of occurrence of Covid-19 -- 33% lower than onshore," CLIA said.

Royal Caribbean Group also put out a statement acknowledging that the omicron variant had increased cases onboard ships, but that the vast majority of those cases "had no symptoms or only mild symptoms" and that none of the omicron cases "have been severe or needed to be taken to a hospital. These figures are a result of almost everyone onboard having been vaccinated and having a negative test before boarding." 

"We don't like to see even one case, but our experience is a fraction of the comparable statistics of virtually any other comparable location or industry," said Royal Group CEO Richard Fain, who also pointed out that cruising, unlike airlines or hotels, test and report their passengers, putting cruise lines under much more scrutiny than other industries. 

"Few businesses are subject to such intense scrutiny, regulation and disclosure requirements by so many authorities, and we welcome that scrutiny because of our commitment to safety," he said. "We intend to maintain our goal of delivering the safest vacation on land or sea and will constantly adjust our procedures to accomplish this even in the face of omicron's amazing transmissibility."

Jean Newman Glock, managing director for Signature Travel Network, said in an online post that cruise was being scapegoated. 

"Everyone is looking for a scapegoat for the plague we have been enduring," she wrote. "We are tired and weary, but blaming one segment of the travel industry, the cruise industry, without looking at the facts does not help us develop policies and procedures needed to move on with our lives. I would argue the opposite. The cruise lines have worked closely with the CDC and scientists to develop models we all need to assess and manage risks."

Glock said she is "at a loss to explain why [the CDC] continues to stigmatize the one segment of our industry that has done the most to successfully mitigate risk."

"Cruising is not the scapegoat for the pandemic and statements to color it as such are facile," she concluded. "I will be onboard a cruise ship very soon. According to all the statistics (including those from the CDC), I will be much safer at sea than I am here in Washington, D.C." 


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