With the start of the Alaska cruise season just two months away, Canada has released its requirements for cruise ship visits. The requirements are stricter than those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), and make it unlikely that cruise ships will be able to visit Canadian ports. This could also put all Alaska sailings at risk.
Canadian Cruise Ship Guidelines Released
Cruise lines with itineraries for the upcoming Alaskan season – which runs from May through September – have been waiting for Canada to announce its COVID-19 protocols for cruise ship visits. Those protocols have finally been revealed, but their strictness may make it impossible for cruise ships to reasonably visit Canada for the 2022 season.
Transport Canada’s cruise ship instructional reference tool outlines the necessary requirements for cruise ship visits, with the objective that “for a successful start of the cruise ship season in Canada, cruise ship operators must ensure that appropriate public health measures are put in place and followed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 aboard vessels and during port visits.”
This is certainly reasonable, and all cruise lines have been working since the industry shutdown began in March 2020 to create health and safety protocols to minimize COVID-19 onboard ships and to protect passengers, crew members, and port communities.
Details outlined in the reference tool include the guideline that, for example, cruise ships must have “procedures in place to maintain a continuous supply” of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the cruise, including appropriate face masks and gloves, to respond to a potential outbreak.
Other guidelines include details on pre-cruise COVID-19 testing, how to communicate protocols to prospective guests, ventilation requirements, cleaning and sanitation protocols, physical distancing requirements, and more.
Many of these guidelines are similar to what cruise ships have already been implementing successfully for months. There is one particular protocol, however, that may make it impossible for cruise ships departing from U.S. ports to visit Canada as part of Alaska itineraries due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act.
Vaccination Protocols Stricter Than the CDC
The voluntary program for cruise ships developed by the CDC has outlined three tiers for cruise ships. The “Vaccination Standard of Excellence” requires 95% of both passengers and crew members to be up-to-date with vaccinations and eligible boosters; “Highly Vaccinated” requires 95% of passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated but without requiring booster shots; and ships with fewer than 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated will be rated as “Not Highly Vaccinated.”
The CDC has also clarified that children under the age of 5 will not be included in the percentage calculations regarding vaccination status.
Canada’s guidance, however, states that cruise lines should “ensure that all crew members and travellers will be assessed to confirm that they have completed an appropriate COVID-19 immunization series at least 14 days prior to onboarding.”
This indicates that Canada will require 100% of passengers and crew members to be fully vaccinated, which the Canadian government defines as having had at least two doses of an accepted vaccine at least 14 calendar days before entering the country. Booster shots are not yet required to be considered fully vaccinated.
It should be noted that as of February 20, 2022, only 80.39% of the entire Canadian population qualifies as fully vaccinated according to government reporting, which means the requirements for cruise ships far exceed what Canada’s own population is achieving.
The cruise ship guidelines also have no exemption stated for children under 5 years old. If this remains the requirement, it is highly unlikely that cruise ships will be able to visit Canadian ports of call, which could put the entire 2022 Alaska cruise season in jeopardy.
There is hope, however, that Alaska cruises will be able to set sail as planned – albeit with itinerary alterations.
Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador John Heald stated last week that the cruise line was waiting for clarification from the Canadian government. “If that cannot be worked out promptly, the industry will seek to have government regulations suspended like what took place last year, and our itineraries will bypass Canada altogether,” Heald said.
Furthermore, Congressional representatives from Alaska have already introduced legislation to extend the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), which permitted cruise ships to bypass Canada in 2021.
“Alaska’s economy and our communities should not be at the mercy of decisions made by the Canadian government and I will do whatever is needed to ensure Alaskans can prosper,” said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski in a February 18 press statement.
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If such legislation is approved as it was in 2021, cruise ships would be able to sail to Alaska without including Canadian ports of call. This will protect the Alaska cruise season and ensure local economies can benefit from the extensive tourist calls cruises bring to the state.
In a typical year, more than 2.25 million travelers visit Alaska, with more than half of the state’s visitors arriving by cruise ship. The cruise industry is responsible for approximately 10 percent of the state’s jobs and income, according to the Resource Development Council for Alaska.
At this time, no cruise lines have indicated immediate cancelations or changes for Alaska cruises, but booked passengers should stay in close communication with their cruise line to be alerted to potential changes.