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Pressure on CDC Grows, As Cruise Lines Plan More International Restarts
Pressure on CDC Grows, As Cruise Lines Plan More International Restarts
CDC Issues Next Phase of Technical Guidance; Still No Test Cruises
Cruise ships in Cozumel (Photo: Cruise Critic)

CDC Issues Next Phase of Technical Guidance; Still No Test Cruises

CDC Issues Next Phase of Technical Guidance; Still No Test Cruises
Cruise ships in Cozumel (Photo: Cruise Critic)

April 02, 2021

Aaron Saunders
Senior Editor, News and Features
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(5 p.m. EDT) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it has issued the next phase of guidance that will allow cruises to eventually resume from U.S. homeports.

The agency's guidance doesn't replace the Framework for Conditional Sailing that went into effect October 30; rather, it signals a number of changes that will be necessary in order to begin test voyages from U.S. ports of call.

The CDC's new guidance comes days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged the cruise industry be allowed to restart, with the state's Attorney General even threatening legal action against the government agency.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents the majority of the world's cruise fleet, had also called on the CDC to rescind its long-standing orders against cruise.

New Testing Measures, Vaccination Strategies Required

As part of the next phase of the Framework for Conditional Sailing, today's guidance requires cruise lines to establish agreements at ports where they intend to operate. This requires that cruise lines demonstrate they have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak onboard; have healthcare capacity and housing for quarantining known and suspected cases of COVID-19.

Lines must also commit to the routine testing of crew and develop plans to incorporate vaccination strategies for crew and port workers to reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 throughout the vessel.

The CDC's technical instructions also direct that cruise operators are required to shift from weekly to daily reporting of COVID-19 cases and illness onboard vessels.

A ship with "red" status no longer needs to wait 28 days to be certified "green" and allowed to sail again. This timeline has decreased from 28 down to 14 days.

The CDC also issued guidance on the implementation of testing all crew based on the ship's color status, along with the need for cruise lines to establish a plan and timeline for vaccination of all crew and port personnel.

Many cruise operators have already committed to requiring passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and that number increases exponentially as operators flesh out their plans for restart outside the United States.

Still No Test Cruises

While today's guidance from the CDC was a positive step forward for the industry, missing from it were detailed, actionable plans for the long-awaited test cruises that are seen as the key benchmark for the restart of cruse operations.

No timeline for this next phase of guidance was listed in a news release provided to Cruise Critic.

"The next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers," the CDC's media release stated.

"CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising when it is safe to do so, following the phased approach outlined in the CSO."

'Cruising Will Always Pose Some Risk of COVID-19 Transmission'

The CDC notes that COVID-19 vaccination efforts will play a large part in the safe resumption of operations within the United States, and urges eligible port personnel, passengers and crew to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they are able to.

Less encouraging is the CDC's language surrounding cruise, which makes it clear the agency still views it as an ongoing vector for transmission.

"Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult," the agency wrote in the news release. "While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the CSO will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern."

This is the first sign of progress since the CDC first issued the Framework for Conditional Sailing last fall. The lack of guidance saw cruise lines seeking to restart operations in places such as the U.K., Bermuda, Bahamas and St. Maarten in the meantime.

According to CLIA, cruise in the United States supports nearly 450,000 American jobs and contributes roughly $55.5 billion annually to the local economy.

Cruise Critic will update this article as more information becomes available.

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