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Cruise lines virus rules lifted

Front Pages 16 Jan, 2022 Follow News

Cruise lines virus rules lifted

Cruise lines passengers in the United States now have the option to decide if they want to follow COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s despite recent outbreaks leading to Caribbean and South American ports refusing cruise ships to dock there.

The Conditional Sailing Order, a mandatory set of rules that cruise companies have followed for the past two years, expired on Saturday (15 January). The agency has transitioned to a “voluntary COVID-19 risk mitigation program” for ships that are registered in foreign countries and operate in US waters.

Cruise lines can now decide for themselves whether to follow the program as the CDC makes the program voluntary, but they have only until 21 January to opt in.

The transition comes only two weeks after the agency raised cruise travel up to the highest-risk level in its regularly updated travel notices, advising travellers to avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status. The fact that the Omicron variant is more infectious but less virulent than the Delta variant is a factor in this decision.

If cruise lines opt not to continue operating under the Conditional Sail Order, their ships will be listed as grey on the CDC’s website.

Even operators that don’t opt to follow the recommendations will be under the CDC’s authority in important ways, said Aimee Treffiletti, of the US Public Health Service.

These rules have included requiring vaccination for a certain percentage of passengers and crew, tests before boarding for passengers and regular testing for crew, and mask-wearing indoors unless eating or drinking.

Despite the recent spike in cases on cruises, the CDC is still not seeing severe outcomes on ships — which Treffiletti attributed to virus mitigation measures that cruise lines are following. “Things like hospitalisation, ventilator use, medical evacuations and deaths are not a major issue on board,” she said.

That’s despite The Guardian, a British newspaper, reports that “a surge in Covid infections on cruise ships is causing mayhem across the industry, leaving passengers stranded aboard ships, exacerbating staff shortages and prompting the CDC to warn US passengers against all cruise travel.”

The Guardian stated that “the CDC director said this week that Covid cases have increased 30-fold in just two weeks. Every one of the nearly 100 cruise ships currently carrying passengers in US waters has reported enough Covid-19 cases to merit investigation by the CDC, according to the agency’s website.”

Nevertheless, the CDC believes lifting its restrictions is justified because many passengers and crew are vaccinated and follow strict Covid testing and protocols.

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