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USA | Jan 14, 2022

CDC to lift conditional sailing order in boost to cruise ship industry

/ Our Today

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Order will be allowed to expire on January 15

A general view of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. (File Photo: REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File)

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lifted its Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), which led to a shutdown of the cruise ship industry, particularly in North America.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told Congress on Tuesday that the COVID-19 regulations would move from mandatory to voluntary on January 15, 2022. In October 2021, the CDC said it would let the conditional sail order expire on January 15.

Ships were docked or out at sea with skeleton crews for more than a year, as the CDC, through the CSO, made it illegal for cruise lines and the industry’s other players to sail as COVID raged. The major cruise lines have all kept their COVID protocols in place, and even tightened them, despite the CSO expiring on January 15.

Walensky, in supporting the move to lift the CSO, remarked: “I think the conditional sailing order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding, as you know, the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place, is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we’ve worked collaboratively with the industry.”

Cruise lines committed to CSO protocols

Matt Hochberg, in his Royal Caribbean Blog, stated that, “Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines have already committed to follow the CSO regardless if it’s required or not. Cruise lines first indicated they would follow the CSO following Florida’s legal victory against the CDC in summer 2021.

Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship ‘Allure of the Seas’. (File Photo: REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

Omicron has increased the number of positive cases among fully vaccinated crew members. This has led Royal Caribbean to cancel a handful of cruises and delay the return of service for Serenade of the Seas.

Instead, that ship will be used as a sort of hospital ship for quarantined crew members, which would allow the cruise line to keep infected crew members away from their uninfected crew mates, which should minimise transmission.

However, various cruise-line executives have gone out of their way to point out that protocols may not be able to stop transmission but can help contain outbreaks. Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley shared in a recent Facebook post that infection rates on board are well below the rates on land.

He pointed out that a typical sailing will have anywhere from 95 per cent to 98 per cent fully vaccinated on-board population and that all guests are tested before boarding and all crew tested weekly with front-of-house staff now being tested every three days and everyone wearing masks the vast majority of the time, along with social distancing and sanitising.

Bayley wrote: “We now have a positivity rate way below the national rate and way below our big homeport states such as Florida, California, Texas, etc., and way below Broward and Miami-Dade in Florida, the two counties which are home to our biggest homeports of Miami and Port Everglades.”

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