Whether it’s the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, a US Senator, or a US Congressman awaiting a response, the silence from the CDC is putting the cruise industry on edge.
Sure, after pressure on the agency increased for many months, there was the announcement that cruises could be sailing from mid-summer. The fact that this statement came from Jade Fulce should give an insight into the thinking at the CDC. Fulce said only two weeks earlier that the CDC would not amend the Conditional Sail order.
In the meantime, the CDC remains inflexible on the issue, damaging the cruise industry, undermining the view from experts like the healthy sailing panel from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, and is putting thousands of families worldwide at risk.
Is The CDC Overreaching?
The current events and the happenings of the last few weeks raises the question of whether the CDC is overreaching. The Conditional Sail Order has been called outdated, but it is a textbook example of bureaucratic overreach.
The measures that the CDC is suggesting the cruise lines implement do little to lessen the risk of spreading COVID-19 onboard cruise ships. These measures are more based on the premise that infections and outbreaks will happen and what to do afterwards.
The measures the cruise lines have suggested to implement, and specifically Norwegian Cruise Line, go much further to increase safety on board; they call for mandatory vaccinations and a full testing regime for all onboard.
The cruise lines plan to implement a far-reaching tracking scheme where they can instantly see where aboard it is too busy and close down areas, implement technological advances for hands-free and touchless purchases, ordering of meals, services at the reception and tour desks, and much more.
If the CDC wants to create a safe sailing environment onboard cruise ships and prevent outbreaks, the agency would be looking at these solutions. Yet, it seems the agency is more concerned about how long people spend in a terminal and whether those embarking can come into contact with guests that disembark.
Keep in mind; these embarking guests will be in close contact with the crew on board, the same crew that was in contact with the disembarking guests.
US Senators Marco Rubio for Florida, Dan Sullivan for Alaska, and Rick Scott for Florida introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act last week. If enacted, the bill would have revoked the CDC’s current Conditional Sail Order on cruises and put ships back at sea by July 4, 2021.
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio sent two letters to Dr Walensky, the current director of the CDC, calling for permission to have the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet sailing from July 4, with fully vaccinated guests and crew members on board.
Florida Governor DeSantis sued the federal government and the CDC because the CDC has allowed amusement parks, airlines, hotels, restaurants, casinos, and bars to reopen, yet refuses to let cruise ships do the same.
On all these issues, the CDC has, so far, remained silent.
The CDC has, however, updated its directives that caution people not to take a cruise:
“CDC recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide. That’s because the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high since the virus appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”
Is It truly Safe To Sail?
Not everyone agrees that cruises should be allowed to sail. Some think that the CDC should hold steady the Conditional Sailing Order. And in many ways, that feeling is entirely understandable. The cruise lines have, in the past, not had a perfect record when it comes to safety on board.
The situation currently is not the same as the cruise ships in the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. Cruise ships have been sailing with 400,000 guests and counting since the start of the pandemic—total cases of COVID-19 onboard amount to less than 50.
Cruise lines like MSC, TUI, Royal Caribbean, Costa, AIDA, and more have perfected their health and safety procedures and proven that sailing is safe indeed.
The Real Impact the CDC is Having
We all know that the current situation is having a profound impact on the cruise lines themselves. However, the human impact behind that reached much further than many expect.
Many crew members have been out of work for months, and in most cases, for more than a year. These crew members often live in poor areas where a social network is not in place, with obvious consequences. Farmers that ordinarily deliver fresh goods to cruise lines have gone bankrupt. Travel agents have been struggling to make ends meet. The list goes on.
The UK has proven that sailing can happen, and it will happen from UK ports shortly. Singapore, the Canary Islands, and Italy have done the same. Soon many more Mediterranean countries will be joining those countries.
The CDC is running out of excuses to keep the Conditional Sailing Order in place. When thousands of people can go to amusement parks, airlines, hotels, restaurants, casinos, and bars that have far less stringent health protocols, preventing people from sailing onboard a ship makes no sense.