BIZ-CORONAVIRUS-CRUISES-CDC-MCT

Carnival Cruise Line's new ship Mardi Gras was set to make its fall debut at Port Canaveral. (Carnival Cruise Line/TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued new technical guidelines to cruise lines to continue moving toward a return to sailing, but have yet to nail down a date that may occur.

All major cruise lines sailing out of U.S. ports are subject to the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing order that was issued last October in place of a no-sail order that was enacted in March 2020. The framework outlined requirements cruise lines would need to follow including building up testing infrastructure on board and on shore and running simulated sailings before any line could sail with paying customers again.

The cruise industry has been clamoring, though, for more guidance to get to those steps. Friday’s new guidance promises to get the cruise lines closer to a return to business.

“CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising when it is safe to do so,” reads a statement about the new technical guidance.

The next steps, what the CDC is now calling step 2A of a four-step plan, are that the cruise lines have to have the following:

—Increasing from weekly to daily the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses.

—Implementing routine testing of all crew based on each ship’s color status.

—Updating the color-coding system used to classify ships’ status with respect to COVID-19.

—Decreasing the time needed for a “red” ship to become “green” from 28 to 14 days based on the availability of onboard testing, routine screening testing protocols, and daily reporting.

—Creating planning materials for agreements that port authorities and local health authorities must approve to ensure cruise lines have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on their ships to include healthcare capacity and housing to isolate infected people and quarantine those who are exposed.

—Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and port personnel.

The new guidelines are the first mention of vaccinations, and they do not require that crew or those working at the ports are vaccinated.

In its statement, though, the CDC suggests that the more potential port personnel and passengers become vaccinated, the faster this process will take place.

“COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations,” the CDC stated. “As more people are fully vaccinated, the phased approach allows CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so. CDC recommends that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them.”

Cruise lines were at the center of several deadly outbreaks in the early months of 2020 including several ships that would not allow passengers to disembark. One of the worst was on Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess, which left 14 dead. Those problems led to both the cruise industry voluntarily shutting down last March and the no-sail order from the CDC.

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a discussion at Port Canaveral with cruise leaders from Royal Caribbean, Disney, Norwegian, Carnival, MSC Cruises as well as other politicians calling for the CDC to take the next steps in reopening the industry for business. He pointed out that several lines have already begun safe resumption of sailing in other markets around the world. That discussion was on top of a letter cosigned by Florida’s two U.S. senators and other elected officials to the CDC pleading for more guidance.

Earlier in March, Cruise Lines International Association had asked the CDC to remove the conditional sail order entirely by July, but the CDC responded it intended to keep the order, which does not expire until Nov. 1, 2021, in place, but would see some changes.

Friday’s guidance keeps its 74 points in place, though, but does mean cruise lines now have at least the next steps toward the end goal of a full return.

“Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult,” reads the statement. “While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the (Conditional Sail Order) will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.”

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