The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has responded following details of the new voluntary program released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on February 9, 2022. The new guidelines have been criticized by CLIA and called more “confusing” and “unworkable” for guests and cruise lines.
New CDC Voluntary Program Released
On February 9, the CDC finally released details of its new COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships. The new program replaced the Conditional Sailing Order that ended on January 15, 2022. Despite cruise lines choosing whether they would like to be a part of the program, CLIA, which represents 50 cruise lines worldwide, is “confounded” with the details.
A new classifications structure is being introduced as part of the CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships. There are three different ship classifications depending on the vaccination status of a ship as follows:
- Not Highly Vaccinated: ships with less than 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated.
- Highly Vaccinated: ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated, but with less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
- Vaccination Standard of Excellence: ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
The CDC still plans to continue its Cruise Ship Color Status for participating cruise lines, and the status classification for each ship will have to be reported to the CDC. Once a vessel is classed, it would have to keep to that threshold for each voyage, such as a ship being classed as “Not Highly Vaccinated.”
As part of the program, cruise lines would also have to follow specific response plans such as port agreements, strict procedures onboard, and continuous testing. Knowing the status of each ship would also still be the case with the CDC’s Ship Color Status page.
CLIA’s Strongest Response Yet
In response to the CDC voluntary program, CLIA says, “Regrettably, upon initial review, the latest CDC guidance appears out of step with the actual public health conditions on cruise ships and unnecessary in light of societal trends away from more restrictive measures. We are confounded by the CDC’s imposition of even more complex and unwarranted measures which ignore empirical evidence that the industry’s protocols have provided a greater level of COVID mitigation than most any other setting. The CDC’s guidance for multitiered cruises is counterproductive to consumers, creating market confusion between the various tiers, and potentially unworkable in practice.”
The hope was that the new program would ease the complexity of cruise operations due to cruise lines already having strict protocols in place and leading the travel industry in new procedures and measures to keep guests and crew safe.
CLIA says, “Unlike any other travel, tourism, hospitality, or entertainment sector, cruise ships test all persons boarding, have medical, isolation and quarantine facilities on site, implement extensive response plans using only private shoreside resources, and have created an environment where almost every single person is fully vaccinated.”
“The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of COVID-positive cases, with hospitalizations being extraordinarily rare – in fact 80 times lower than on land in the U.S. As compared to all the other sectors which, ironically, are much larger, cater to magnitudes more patrons, and operate many more conveyances and facilities without testing and at only a fraction of the cruise industry’s vaccination rates, cruising has emerged as the safest venue for mitigating COVID-19.”
The new guidelines will be a requirement for cruise lines that opt-in. Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line already announced before the CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships was released that they would opt in on the voluntary program. Cruise lines have to notify the maritime Unity of the CDC in writing by February 18 if they want to opt-in, or out. It only applies for cruise ships that plan to operate, or are operating in U.S. waters.
CDC Cruise Travel Notice Updated
In addition to the CDC’s new voluntary program, CLIA continues to be at odds with the CDC Cruise Travel Notice that recommends avoiding all cruise travel. The notice is currently at its highest level and was updated on February 9, 2022, with new details from CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. Waters. the notice was previously updated on December 30, 2021.
CLIA says in regards to the travel notice, “Against this backdrop, we continue to be dismayed by the CDC’s decision to maintain any Travel Health Notice for cruise. CDC has long recognized the paramount importance of vaccination in protecting against COVID-19 and the vaccination rate on cruise ships is close to 100%, whereas on land it is only about 63%.“
“It seems unnecessarily discriminatory against cruise to maintain that the chances of getting COVID-19 on a cruise “is very high” even if you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines. This discounts the importance of what the CDC has otherwise promoted as the single most important touchstone for public health and safety.“
It comes as the cruise industry is just starting to relax some of its stricter protocols following concerns of the Omicron variant in December 2021 and January 2022. In recent days, cruise lines have started to ease mask policies and reduce some of the more tightened requirements.