According to a report from USAToday, ships may be allowed to sail from the United States beginning in mid-July.
USAToday says it obtained a letter that the CDC sent to the cruise lines, which outlined the possibility of a return to cruising.
“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s [Conditional Sail Order] phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s COVID-19 response said within that letter.
This is a major development as the cruise industry has often complained they seem to be held to a higher standard than the rest of the travel and entertainment industry. For instance, people can fly on planes, stay in hotels, go to sporting events, and gamble in a casino, but can’t take a cruise from the United States.
Instead, the CDC seems to be softening its approach regarding the steps to a return to sailing, which cruise lines have complained is too burdensome. This reportedly includes several changes that could speed up the return, including:
- Foregoing simulated voyages if 98% of the crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
- A CDC response to an application to resume sailing within five days instead of the previously announced 60 days.
- Allowing rapid antigen tests at embarkation for vaccinated passengers instead of a PCR lab test.
- Allow lines to have a needed agreement with multiple ports instead of a single port.
- Adjust quarantine rules for those exposed to COVID, including letting passengers drive home and passengers flying home stay in hotels to quarantine.
When reached for a statement, CDC Spokesperson Caitlin Shockey told USAToday, “CDC looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and urges cruise lines to submit Phase 2A port agreements as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July.”
Cruise lines also seems hopeful that a return to cruising is possible in the months ahead. USAToday reports that an unnamed source says “that the industry is cautiously optimistic about moving ahead” after the letter.
And in an update from Royal Caribbean Group, CEO Richard Fain also had positive comments.
“Last night, the CDC notified us of some clarifications and amplifications of their Conditional Sail Order which addressed uncertainties and concerns we had raised,” said Fain. “They have dealt with many of these items in a constructive manner that takes into account recent advances in vaccines and medical science. Although this is only part of a very complex process, it encourages us that we now see a pathway to a healthy and achievable return to service, hopefully in time for an Alaskan season.”
Fain also emphasized a potential return in mid-July during a conference call with investors, and praised the CDC for working with the cruise industry to return.
Cruising has paused from the United States since March 2020. In recent weeks the industry has stepped up pressure to resume sailing, calling for the CDC to lift its Conditional Sail Order.