It appears though the beginning of the end of COVID is coming near. With many experts saying Omicron could be the last big wave of infections, the future of cruising is looking brighter, despite several ships being denied at ports and an increasing amount of cruise cancellations worldwide.
At least one measure that will not be a requirement anymore will be the Conditional Sail Order. From January 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will make the measure a voluntary one instead of a mandatory measure. Cruise lines will choose whether to follow the CDC’s guidance or implement their own guidelines and procedures.
The Centers for Disease Control will transition the Conditional Sail Order to a voluntary program this Saturday, January 15. It brings an end to the order that has split opinions for more than a year now.
The order has been full of inconsistencies and has been widely criticized during the first months of 2021. Only when the CDC introduced clear measures in May and June of 2021 did the industry manage to start operating in the United States.
A few of the measures included in the CSO are testing before cruising, the vaccine mandate, mask-wearing, social distancing measures, quarantine, and measures for medical debarkation of guests and crew.
The vaccine mandate prompted Governor DeSantis of Florida to sue the CDC successfully. The result was that the CSO had been a voluntary requirement for cruise ships since July of last year.
The CDC says on its website: “As of July 23, 2021, the CSO and accompanying measures, such as technical instructions, are nonbinding recommendations for cruise ships arriving in, located within, or departing from a port in Florida. CDC is continuing to operate the CSO as a voluntary program for such ships that choose to follow the CSO measures voluntarily.”
So what will change now the CSO is expiring? Likely not much. The vast majority of the cruise ships sailing in the United States have been operating out of Florida, thus operating voluntarily under the CSO.
Nonetheless, the fact that the CDC is stepping away now is another testament that the cruise industry has set the standard for safe travels in the COVID-era.
The Cruise Industry is Committed to COVID-19 Mitigation
Since June of last year, the cruise industry operating in the United States has been uncompromising in its efforts to keep COVID-19 away from its vessels. Something it has achieved through strict measures implemented in all layers of the cruising experience.
Cruise industry representative ‘Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)’ believes the cruise industry maintains some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry:
“Cruise is the only segment of travel and tourism that requires, prior to embarkation for both passengers and crew, exceedingly high levels of vaccination (approaching 100% compared to only 63% on land in the U.S.) and 100% testing of every individual (over 20 times the rate in the U.S.).”
“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. Further, cruise is the only sector that continuously monitors, collects, and reports case information directly to the CDC.”
Will This Be the End of Measures on Cruise Ships?
Although the cruise industry and the CDC had a rocky start early last year, over the previous six months, valuable resources and industry standards have been established that have kept cruise ships at sea and instilled confidence in the industry from the CDC. With the end of the CSO, it is not likely the industry will now stop using those resources and standards. Something which CLIA confirms:
“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.”
Ships that do not voluntarily follow the guidelines set out by the CDC will be marked with grey color on the CDC’s color chart. However, this chart has been inadequate in providing insight into cases onboard ships.
Neither will the CDC be backing down from carrying out the oversight it has: “The industry has stepped up and is now interested in exceeding the compliance with the Sail Order without the order necessarily needing to be in place. We (the CDC) still will continue to follow, do the oversight and watch and do all of the technical assistance and support in every single way,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director.
Many would still like to see the cruise industry put on the sidelines once again. However, even the CDC realizes now that cruise ships are an exceedingly safe place to vacation.
The government organization now also seems to realize that no one in the industry will benefit from cases or outbreaks of COVID-19 on cruise ships; therefore, it is in the best interest of the cruise industry to follow the protocols and rules set up.
For those hoping to see an end to testing, vaccine mandates, and mask mandates, those times are likely still a ways away.
Although, as Michael Bayley, the Royal Caribbean CEO, said: “So my hope is this really is the beginning of the end of this virus and what we are seeing is its morphing to fast spread and less harmful like the common cold If vaccinated.” If this is the case, we might see cruising return to normal sooner rather than later.