Cruises could resume from American ports by mid-July without restrictions if operators can guarantee that almost all of the crew and passengers have received the vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), according to media reports.
Cruise lines have been in limbo for more than a year due to safety measures related to the pandemic. In a letter to the cruise industry on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said operators can begin sailing without test cruises if they can show that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated.
The cruise industry has been under a conditional sail order since October that required operators to conduct test cruises carrying volunteers and apply for a certificate before restarting passenger cruises.
If operators still opt to do test cruises, the CDC said in the letter that it would respond to applications for simulated voyages within five days. The process previously took about two months.
“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the [sail order’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,” Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s Covid-19 response, said in the letter, according to US news daily.
“[The] 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,” CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey told a US daily.
Cruise operators also may dock at multiple ports rather than a single port, as long as all ports and local authorities agree, the CDC said.
Health officials and cruise industry operators were holding twice-weekly meetings recently to reach an agreement and the industry lobbied the CDC last month to lift the conditional sail order, calling the restrictions “outdated.”
“This puts cruise ships closer to open-water sailing sooner,” the CDC said in its letter.
The CDC also changed quarantine and testing requirements, and passengers can now take a rapid antigen test upon boarding a cruise ship rather than a lab test.
CDC guidance allows passengers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus to drive home after the cruise and passengers who have traveled by air may quarantine in a hotel.