Now COVID-19 requirements are being relaxed in Puerto Rico, the nation’s Department of Health has also decided to remove the testing requirements that it instated just weeks ago. The new rules will be implemented on short notice.
The controversial move to require testing 48 hours before arrival from the government in December caused more than 60 cruise ships to cancel their visits to the island in January and millions of dollars in lost revenue. The imminent relaxation of testing requirements paves the way for cruise ships to visit Puerto Rico once again.
No More Testing For Transit Visitors
After just a few weeks, Puerto Rico will withdraw its testing requirements for in-transit visitors. Cruise Lines wishing to visit the country do not need to test each guest two days before arrival in Puerto Rico. Instead, vaccination proof will suffice.
According to the Ports Authority, some 60 cruise ships canceled their stops at the San Juan dock between Dec. 27, 2021, and Feb. 3, 2022, representing multimillion-dollar losses for the tourism industry.
All major cruise lines had been affected by the government’s spur-of-the-moment decision, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line, which were all forced to cancel multiple calls.
The agreement between the Ports Authority, Tourism Industry, and Department of Health states that cruise ship passengers wishing to disembark in Puerto Rico will need to present evidence of vaccination against COVID-19 to disembark. However, guests leaving the vessel and returning home will have to submit a negative test before disembarking.
The move is not final yet; the department of health will discuss the new protocols with the relevant cruise lines and other involved parties and give a date when the new rules will be implemented.
The rules from the Puerto Rico government will not affect the regulations from the cruise lines, which still require a negative COVID-19 test before boarding the vessel.
Puerto Rico Hit With Huge Economic Losses
The implementation of testing requirements, by the Puerto Rico government, caused economic losses amounting to millions of dollars for local businesses. These losses are also what brought the current changes forward.
“Currently, the itinerary cancellations have been many and this, in turn, caused the cancellations of flights that bring those tourists to take their cruises on the island and at the same time greatly affects many small and medium-sized businesses in Old San Juan that depend on this market,” said the president of the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA), Joaquin Bolivar III.
So far, no cruise lines have announced they will be returning to San Juan soon. The fear amongst local business owners is that the cruise lines will be hesitant to return in full force, keeping in mind the potential for more sudden rule changes by the local government.
“It is one thing for Puerto Rico to remove the requirement of the test to get off the ship, but we have to see if the cruise lines, which had already resumed their itineraries to other ports, will want to return to Puerto Rico,” said one local businesswoman in an interview with El Nuevo Dia.
This was further underlined by the director of the agency’s Office of Epidemiology, Sylvianette Luna, who clarified that future, sudden, rule changes could put Puerto Rico in a disadvantageous position with other destinations. Therefore, the department is planning to address possible new restrictions with cruise companies before they are implemented and when they would be implemented.
On a typical day, San Juan would have seen up to 6 cruise ships visit the city, with upwards of 20,000 people disembarking the ships to visit the old part of San Juan. In 2018 the cruise industry accounted for $151 million in cruise tourism-related expenditures in Puerto Rico.