After weeks of criticism, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a letter to the cruise industry on April 28 reiterating its commitment for the resumption of cruises from U.S. ports by mid-summer. The four-page letter responds to many of the issues raised by the cruise lines and for the first time provided detailed guidance as well as a new alternative to speed the resumption of U.S.-based cruises. Industry executives responded positively while cautioning that they were still reviewing the details.
For the first time, the CDC specifically responded to the industry’s calls for updated guidance based on the evolving science and the growing levels of vaccinations across the country. The CDC provided two paths for restoring cruises. Cruise lines that will attest to having 98 percent of their crew fully vaccinated and limit cruise ship sailings to 95 percent of passengers who have been verified by the cruise ship operator as fully vaccinated can skip the requirement for simulated voyages to demonstrate to the CDC the ship’s preparedness to address the COVID-19 virus. The cruise lines that take this route, however, must still meet the other elements of the Conditional Sailing Order, including enhanced medical facilities, protocols, arrangements for medical care and quarantine, but will not be required to conduct disembarkation day testing.
The cruise lines can choose to follow the full phased approach with simulated voyages and then the CDC suggested 30 days for submission of notice and 60 days applications for the cruises. The CDC committed to respond within five business days and “expects to quickly approve applications that are both complete and accurate.”
Seeking to dispel reports of inaction and non-responsiveness, including the lawsuit by Florida and Alaska and the open letters from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the CDC said for the past two weeks it has been holding twice-weekly meetings with representatives from various cruise lines. It said its goal was to engage in dialogue and exchange information, a sentiment that was acknowledged by Royal Caribbean Group’s executives during a business update to the investment community.
“The big change has been a significant improvement in the extent and the quality of our dialog with the CDC,” Richard Fain CEO of Royal Caribbean told investors. “We believe that this communication really helps us to see a clear and achievable pathway forward to safe and healthy cruising in the near future.”
The CDC told the cruise lines that it looks forward to receiving their plans and moving forward with the next phase of the Conditional Sailing Order. They, however, cautioned that safety remains a priority and careful approach was still required. “We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s 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,” says the letter signed by Captain Aimee Treffiletti of the U.S. Public Health Service and head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s COVID-19 Global Mitigation Task Force.
While the letter was acknowledged as a critical step, Fain as the first executive speaking publicly also sounded a note of caution. “An important caveat is this is a very complex area, and we only receive the letter last night,” Fain said on the investor conference call. “Furthermore, there are still a great many details to be provided in the future and others that need to be resolved. We need to be cautious about all of those.” Fain concluded by saying Royal Caribbean has” high hopes” forecasting that it could be possible to restart cruising from U.S. ports by mid-July.