In a letter sent to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (parent of several lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line) asked for a restart of its ships in the United States beginning July 4.
As part of that restart, Norwegian says that it will require all guests and crew to be vaccinated at least two weeks before boarding.
While other lines have made mention of vaccine and even mandated them on some cruises, this marks the first major cruise company to require them across any U.S. sailing.
“By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC’s existing Conditional Sailing Order (“CSO”) to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew and the communities we visit. Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021,” the letter from Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said.
There is a question of if those passengers under 16 who currently aren’t authorized to receive vaccines would be allowed to sail.
In addition to requiring vaccines, Norwegian says it would start sailing at 60% capacity and incorporate the protocols laid out by the Healthy Sail Panel.
So far — even before vaccines have been widely available — the number of cases on cruises that have returned in spots like Europe and Asia have largely been successful. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) says that its members have sailed with roughly 400,000 passengers and only had around 50 cases.
This letter marks another step in the pressure building between the CDC and cruise industry. CLIA recently published a letter asking for the CDC framework be lifted, as it was published in October before vaccines were available. As well, politicians and cruise executives recently met at Port Canaveral to call for a restart in cruising.
In addition to the CDC Director, this letter was also sent to a number of influential leaders, including both Florida senators, a number of representatives, the White House Chief of Staff, and more.
You can read the text of the letter in full below:
April 5, 2021
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky
Director, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30329-4027
Re: Our plan to join America’s national opening this summer
Dear Dr. Walensky:
In the ongoing spirit of cooperation between Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (“NCLH”) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), and out of deference and respect for the career CDC scientists working tirelessly on behalf of all Americans, I write to advise you that NCLH has developed a comprehensive and robust science-backed plan that should become the model for how the travel and hospitality industry operates in a COVID-19 environment and which will be mutually beneficial for the public health mission that you and your agency are dedicated to serving and to NCLH’s various constituencies.
As you know, NCLH is the parent company of three cruise brands, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. On March 13, 2020, prior to the CDC issuing its first No Sail Order, NCLH suspended all cruise operations across our three brands worldwide in an effort to do our part as a responsible corporate citizen to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Nearly 13 months later, we believe, that in light of the current health trends, buttressed by the more than 650 million vaccines administered worldwide to date, it is time for NCLH to join the rest of the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery.
We congratulate you and the CDC on the important steps taken to further facilitate safe travel for vaccinated Americans, as announced on April 2, 2021. NCLH shares your view that vaccinations are the primary vehicle for Americans to get back to their everyday lives while containing the spread of the virus. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that our resumption of operations is guided by science and prioritizes the health and safety of our passengers, crew and the communities we visit. Most importantly, because our return to service plan mandates that the entire population onboard our vessels be vaccinated, our plan reduces the risk of outbreaks and severe COVID-19 cases. Accordingly, we will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands’ guests as we have invested tens of millions of dollars in enhanced onboard health and safety protocols, including, but not limited to, enhanced hospital grade air filtration systems, cutting-edge contact tracing technology and significantly upgraded ICU and quarantine medical facilities. Our vessels are well equipped to handle the one-off case of infection that could occur, and our procedures are well detailed and resourced to treat, address and otherwise handle any isolated case onboard. With these as our guiding principles, we are pleased to outline our plan to safely resume cruising:
1. NCLH will require that all guests embarking from a U.S. port and/or disembarking to a U.S. port provide proof of having been fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA-, or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine no less than two weeks prior to their departure date;
2. All crew on NCLH vessels will be fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to commencement of their duties onboard their assigned vessel;
3. NCLH will also incorporate and operationalize the protocols developed by the Healthy Sail Panel (“HSP”), led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb. These protocols, include universal testing of guests and crew, combined with required vaccines for all guests and crew, thereby creating a safe, “bubble-like” environment; and
4. On or about July 4, 2021, NCLH vessels will begin cruise operations at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up our fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.
5. These stringent requirements will remain in place until public health conditions allow for the implementation of more lenient protocols.
We have published the complete SailSAFE health and safety program on our website and attach a copy to this letter.
By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC’s existing Conditional Sailing Order (“CSO”) to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew and the communities we visit. Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021.
We trust that you will agree that our protocols extend well beyond the protocols of other travel, leisure and hospitality sectors, all of which have already reopened, including hotels and resorts, casinos, restaurants, sporting venues, theme parks and airlines. We believe that a cruise ship with a fully vaccinated population when combined with the virus protection defenses provided by the HSP protocols is one of the safest vacation options available.
With vaccine mandates and strict health and safety protocols in place, we are confident of our ability to provide a uniquely safe and healthy vacation environment. These mitigation protocols will minimize, to the greatest extent possible, further infection and spread of COVID-19. With our vessels back in operation, we will not only reinstate tens of thousands of American jobs and meet the significant American consumer’s demand for cruising, but also re-contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy as the industry resumes cruise operations.
We look forward to continued partnership with the CDC in recommencing operations with 100% vaccinated guests and crew aboard. Independent of the pandemic, our primary responsibility remains the safety and welfare of our guests and crew. Recognizing our shared responsibility to health and safety standards — those which exceed the mandated regulations set for other dining, entertainment, travel and tourism enterprises — we embrace these guidelines and view them as opportunities to strengthen public health measures and restore public confidence in our industry and the broader travel sector as a whole.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Frank Del Rio
President and CEO
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings
Hon. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Mr. Ronald A. Klain, White House Chief of Staff
Mr. Jeffrey D. Zients, COVID Response Coordinator
Dr. Nathaniel Smith, Deputy Director for Public Health Services and Implementation Services, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mr. Andrew M. Slavitt, Senior Advisor to the COVID Response Coordinator
Governor Ron DeSantis, State of Florida
Senator Marco Rubio, State of Florida
Senator Rick Scott, State of Florida
Senator Dan Sullivan, State of Alaska
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County
Representative Carlos Gimenez, Florida’s 26th Congressional District
Representative Gus Bilirakis, Florida’s 12th Congressional District
Representative Maria Salazar, Florida’s 27th Congressional District
Representative Ted Deutch, Florida’s 22nd Congressional District
Representative Federica Wilson, Florida’s 24th Congressional District
Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida’s 23rd Congressional District
Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, Florida’s 25th Congressional District