Cruise

The CDC just made COVID regulations optional in US waters

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID-19 guidance for cruise ships became optional over the weekend, allowing cruise lines to set their own rules.

The Conditional Sail Order expired on Saturday, local time, after being extended in October 2021.

First introduced in October 2020, the order required all cruise ships in US waters to complete simulated test cruises or commit to having 98 per cent of crew and 95 per cent of passengers fully vaccinated.

A week before the order was lifted, CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky told a press briefing that cruise companies were generally “subscribing to the order without arguing” and voluntarily practised the steps it contains.

“We are doing the exact same oversight as we would do if the order was in place,” Walensky said.

“The ships are voluntarily doing so and are commenting, and we will have publicly available, which ships are voluntarily doing so, but for the most part, everyone is participating.”

During a senate committee hearing last Tuesday, Walensky told Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that the cruise industry had stepped up and is interested in exceeding the regulations within the order.

Despite the CDC’s confidence, Walensky also noted there has been a “thirtyfold increase” in COVID cases on ships this season, thanks to omicron.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said the development recognises the cruise industry’s commitment to “providing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry”.

According to CLIA, cruise is the only segment of travel and tourism that requires high levels of vaccination (approaching 100 per cent compared to only 63 per cent on land in the US) and 100 per cent testing of every individual (over 20 times the rate in the US).

“When cases are identified as a result of the high frequency of testing onboard, cruise ship protocols help to maximize onboard containment with rapid response procedures designed to safeguard all other guests and crew as well as the communities that the ships visit,” the association said in a statement.

“Further, cruise is the only sector that continuously monitors, collects, and reports case information directly to the CDC.

“CLIA ocean-going cruise line members will continue to be guided by the science and the principle of putting people first, with proven measures that are adapted as conditions warrant to protect the health of cruise passengers, crewmembers, and destinations.”

However, the statement did not specify whether CLIA members would voluntarily follow the orders moving forward.

The CDC has employed a colour-coding system for ships that continue to follow the Conditional Sail Order guidelines which indicates the number of COVID cases reported on board.

Right now, of more than 100 ships currently in US waters, only 11 have qualified for “green” status, which means no reported cases of COVID-19 over the past seven days.

The majority of ships listed have been classified as “yellow”, meaning the ship has met the threshold for CDC investigation by reporting more than 0.10 per cent or more of the passengers having tested positive on board (so, for a ship carrying 6,500 pax, at least seven passengers need to test positive during the previous seven days).

The CDC’s current travel advice is to “avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status”.


Featured image source: iStock/fstop123



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