(11:15 a.m. EST) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reaffirmed to Cruise Critic on Wednesday that its long-standing Conditional Sail Order will transition to a voluntary program January 15.
The CSO, which began first as a "No-Sail" order in March 2020 at the start of the worldwide travel shutdown due to the spread of COVID-19 before being transformed into a "Conditional Sail" order in October 2020 -- outlines numerous health and safety protocols cruise lines have to follow to operate ships safely during the ongoing global pandemic.
Cruise lines operating to, from or calling on U.S. ports, have since adhered to all CDC directives and have worked in conjunction with the organization to ensure that U.S.-based cruises can resume unimpeded.
With the rise of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 and related travel disruptions, Cruise Critic reached out to the CDC for comment on what the future held for the CSO. The CDC confirmed the CSO will officially end as a mandated program as of 12:01 a.m. January 15, 2022, and will then transition into a voluntary program.
"After the expiration of the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO on January 15, 2022, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships," a CDC spokesperson told Cruise Critic via email.
After prohibiting nearly all U.S.-passenger sailings for over a year, cruises resumed from U.S. homeports in June 2021 under enhanced safety protocols approved and sanctioned by cruise operators and the CDC. These include vaccination mandates for passengers, mandator masking regulations, physical distancing and reduced onboard passenger capacity.
The CDC had previously softened some aspects of the CSO last fall, announcing voyages longer than eight days would once again be permitted, and further allowing U.S. homeport operations to resume.
Cruise lines have proactively adapted to the changing threat posed by COVID-19, tightening masking, smoking and testing rules as a result of the spread of the new omicron variant.
Despite the official end of the CSO as an agency-mandated program, cruise lines are widely expected to continue to follow the guidelines set forth by it. Most lines have already extended their health and safety protocols well into 2022, far beyond the scope of the actual end date for the CSO.