(4:53 p.m. EDT) – Cruisers over 70 years of age are being reassured they will not have to provide doctor's notes in order to be able to cruise, once operations resume.
The requirement was instituted by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry's governing body, shortly before cruise operations were suspended in March due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
It originally mandated that passengers over 70 years of age, or those with chronic underlying health conditions, would require a signed note from a doctor – known as a "Fit-to-Sail" form - confirming they were able to take part in the voyage. Those with heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease or immunodeficiency issues including HIV/AIDS, cancer or diabetes would have been unable to sail.
The mandate set off furious debate among cruisers over 70, who worried that doctors would be unable to write such notes, due to liability issues.
In a video presentation to travel agents, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support, Vicki Freed, confirmed that the notes would no longer be required once cruise operations resume.
"We found out that CLIA did actually change this requirement on April 3rd," said Freed. "A health form is no longer required for those travelers ages 70 plus, nor are there restrictions for those guests with underlying health conditions."
Passengers will likely still have to follow different health restrictions when cruising returns in the post-COVID world, however. The CDC mandated that all cruise lines have to address an array of health issues going forward, including monitoring all instances of COVID-19 or flu-like illnesses onboard, arranging for laboratory testing and sampling, developing onboard mitigation and prevention strategies as well as disinfection protocols. That is in addition to changes to onboard medical facilities.
The goal is to be able to handle and mitigate any COVID-19 cases that may arise, with some lines taking steps to limit potential critical cases as much as possible.
In regulations issued last week, Princess Cruises noted that it would continue to refuse to book certain travelers, including those who have been in contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, and those who may be suffering from fever or flu-like symptoms prior to embarkation. The line said it would also deny boarding to those with underlying severe chronic medical conditions, without directly specifying what those were.
Princess noted that passengers who fail to properly disclose any illness or medical issues on the pre-cruise health declaration will be disembarked at the next port of call and may face legal consequences.
Royal Caribbean hasn't released its new health requirements publicly yet. A Royal Caribbean spokesperson told Cruise Critic that it is developing additional safety enhancements in conjunction with government health authorities at the CDC, CLIA, and the company's own team of medical experts. While further details were not provided, Royal Caribbean committed to informing passengers of these as soon as possible.
"We know that our 70+ guests and those with chronic conditions are especially eager to understand what cruising will look like in the future," Royal Caribbean spokesperson Jonathon Fishman said. "While subject to change, via the Cruise Lines International Association, we have confirmed that the previous restrictions were lifted in early April after cruise lines suspended service. Please know that every decision we make, and all of the fine-tuning we do, has the well-being of our guests and crew in mind."
The health and safety requirements verbiage regarding doctor's notes has been changed across Royal Caribbean's brands, including Celebrity and Azamara. While Silversea, Royal Caribbean's luxury brand, has not yet had its verbiage changed, it is likely these new changes will apply to the line as well, as they are under the direction of CLIA.
Cruise Critic reached out to CLIA for comment but has not yet heard back.