Cruise companies will no longer be required to follow the COVID guidelines on board ships as set out in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s conditional cruise order, which was expanded and modified in October, will expire on Saturday when COVID’s cruise ship guidelines become voluntary, CDC USA TODAY confirmed on Wednesday. This means that cruise companies can choosewhether to follow the instructions of the health agency or not.
The health agency is “moving to the COVID-19 voluntary risk mitigation program,” the CDC said in a statement shared by spokesman David Daigle.
The program includes guidelines and recommendations for cruise ships to continue to operate in a manner that promotes a safer and healthier environment for passengers, crew and affected communities, the CDC said.
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“Cruise ships operating in US waters that have chosen to participate in the program on a voluntary basis agree to comply with all recommendations and guidelines issued by the CDC as part of the program,” the CDC continued, noting that the recommendations are aimed at limiting the spread of COVID. .
Vessels operating in US waters and following international itineraries that choose not to participate will be classified as “gray” on the Cruise Ship Color Status website, which means that the CDC has not reviewed the health and safety protocols established by the ship operator. Cruise ships that check out and sail only in US waters will not be listed at all.
The CDC has provided information about the voluntary program to members of the shipping industry and expects cruise companies to indicate whether they will participate “in the coming week”.
Since Monday, reported cases of COVID have increased by 53% from the previous week, representing an average of more than 750,000 new infections per day, according to an analysis by US TODAY data from Johns Hopkins University.
The CDC added that more information about the voluntary program will be released on Saturday when the CSO expires.
The story continues below.
The CSO expires at the end of the CDC travel warning
Order firstannounced in October 2020, the CDC was established to establish a step-by-step approach to the safe resumption of navigation in US waters.
The expiration of the CSO comes just over two weeks after the CDC issued a cruise warning on December 30 after clusters of COVID-19 cases appeared on ships leaving the United States and around the world.
The Cruise Lines International Association, a leading trade organization for the cruise ship industry, said on Wednesday that the CDC’s decision to move its CSO to a voluntary program acknowledged that the cruise ship industry had reaffirmed its “unwavering commitment” to easing COVID.
“Cruises are the only travel and tourism segment that requires an extremely high level of vaccination for passengers and crew before boarding (approaching 100% compared to just 63% of the US population) and 100% testing of each individual (21 times the speed of the US on land) , “CLIA said in a statement shared by Bari Golin-Blaugrund, CLIA’s vice president of strategic communications.
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The organization continued that the cases were identified as a result of “high-frequency” testing and that established protocols help limit the spread of COVID on board. The cruise industry is also the only travel industry to continuously monitor, collect and report to the CDC information on COVID cases, CLIA added.
The CLIA said the industry would continue to be “guided by science and the principle of putting people first.”
Although CDC regulations do not appear to have delayed or stopped the industry, as was the case in March 2020, cruise companies have taken their own steps in the face of Omicron, including cancellations.
Royal Caribbean International announced on Friday that it would suspend operations on multiple ships due to COVID-19, cancel some departures and postpone the return of one ship for cruising. And Norwegian Cruise Line canceled cruises on several of its ships last week as COVID-19 continues to rise with the emergence of the Omicron variant.
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Contributing: Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY