Vice President Mike Pence hosted a call yesterday with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield; Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar; former Utah Governor and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt of the Healthy Sail Panel.
From the cruise line industry, the call was attended to by Arnold Donald (Carnival Corporation), Frank Del Rio (Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings), Richard Fain (Royal Caribbean Group), Thomas Malzoum (Disney), and Pierfrancesco Vago (MSC Cruises)
The meeting finally took place after it was canceled due to the President’s infection with COVID-19. We previously posted that the meeting was rescheduled for Friday at 2:00 PM right here.
According to a press release from the White House, on the agenda was the impact the COVID-19 pandemic and the CDC’s No Sail Order is having on the Cruise Industry and Maritime economy, and the work that had been done by the Healthy Sail Panel.
The industry has widely adopted the 74-steps program developed as the benchmark for a resumption of cruising. The entire program can be downloaded here.
This proposal includes several essential measures that will need to be adopted on board the vessels:
- A minimum of one and preferably two pre-boarding negative Covid-19 test results for guests. However, this is on the presumption that rapid tests are available on the pier side.
- Guests should wear face masks in any indoor area except in their cabins and when dining. Masks are not required in outdoor areas as long as physical distancing is feasible.
- Initially, cruise lines should only allow shore leave for excursions organized and vetted by the cruise line. Guests would not be allowed to leave the vessel in port on their own. This could be lifted once more reliable and comprehensive rapid testing becomes available.
- Cruises should sail at reduced capacity to prevent overcrowding and to be able to facilitate social distancing.
- Any guests that show an unwillingness to comply with the protocols set out will be denied boarding.
What Will Happen Next?
The White House press release did not say if and when the CDC might be lifting the No Sail Order, which has now been in place for over seven months.
While the current No Sail Order is set to expire on October 31st, CDC Director Robert Redfield has not mentioned his intentions to extend further or allow cruise lines to sail once again. It is no secret that the cruise lines are losing money at astonishing rates and need cruising to reopen sooner rather than later. Carnival cruise line revealed this week its cash burn rate is at $700 million per month.
Despite that, most cruise lines have now canceled all cruises in November. The only line that still has plans for cruises from the U.S. in November is Carnival Cruise Line.
It seems likely that the CDC will allow cruise lines to start up test cruises with crew only in November, as has already been announced earlier by Richard Fain, the CEO of Royal Caribbean. It will take a considerable time for the cruise lines to start up vessels for passengers in any case, and cruise lines will need to align the COVID-19 protocols to real-life situations.
The cruise industry could be ready for a resumption of cruises in December, if and when the CDC does lift the No Sail Order. So while the meeting with Vice President Pence will have been informative, it seems that no real decisions were made. Those that are waiting to finally go on a cruise once again, will need to wait a little longer. Yet the signs are becoming more hopeful by the day.