Cruise industry organization Cruise Lines International Association says that last week’s advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning against cruising is “particularly perplexing.”
On Dec. 30, the CDC raised the travel level warning against cruising to its highest level as positive cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant sweep the world.
Nevertheless, CLIA noted that coronavirus cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard—far fewer than on land—and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore.
The CLIA statement goes on: “No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus. Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel, and significantly lower incidence rates than land.
“While we are disappointed and disagree with the decision to single out the cruise industry—an industry that continues to go above and beyond compared to other sectors—CLIA and our ocean-going cruise line members remain committed to working collaboratively with the CDC in the interest of public health and safety,” said the association.
Further, CLIA stated:
“Protocols encompass the entirety of the cruise experience, incorporating testing, vaccination, screening, sanitation, mask-wearing and other science-backed measures.
“Many of our members have announced additional measures in response to the Omicron variant, including strengthening testing, masking and other requirements, as well as encouraging booster vaccine doses for those eligible.
“Over 100 cruise ships have returned to U.S. waters, carrying nearly more than one million people from a U.S. port since late June 2021.
“The cruise industry is the only industry in the U.S. travel and tourism sector that is requiring both vaccinations and testing for crew and guests.
“Vaccination rates onboard a cruise ship typically are upwards of 95%—significantly higher than the overall U.S. population which is hovering at 62 percent.
“In the U.S. alone, the cruise industry administers nearly 10 million tests per week—21x the rate of testing in the United States.
“The latest data show that, even with higher rates of testing, the cruise industry continues to achieve significantly lower rates of occurrence of COVID-19—33% lower than onshore.
“According to the CDC’s color-coding system, a cruise ship may be determined to be “yellow” – and, therefore, subject to CDC observation – if a threshold of 0.10 percent or more passengers (i.e., 7 out of 6,500) have tested positive in the last seven days, or if even just one crew member tests positive.”
Conditional Sail Order to become voluntary
Even as the CDC raised its travel warning against cruising, it reaffirmed to industry organizations that its Conditional Sail Order will transition to a voluntary program January 15. Cruise Critic reports that the “No Sail” order was first imposed in March 2020 to help stop the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, and was trans-formed into a “Conditional” Sail Order in October 2020, which levied numerous health and safety protocols that cruise lines have followed to operate ships safely during the ongoing global pandemic.
Despite the CLIA statement, dozens of upcoming cruises were canceled and/or postponed as large numbers of crew test positive for COVID.
In Brazil, Brazilian Association of Maritime Cruises (CLIA Brazil) suspended cruise operations to Brazilian ports through January 21, 2022, citing inconsistencies with the Brazilian health ministry’s approach to pandemic cruise protocols.
The cruise industry has voluntarily halted operations in Brazil to seek alignment with authorities on COVID-19 protocol as the pandemic continues to surge. According to USAToday, new departures from Brazilian ports would be halted immediately, with current voyages being allowed to finish their planned itineraries.
The decision impacted MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises, which are the only CLIA member cruise lines currently operating in the country.
As of last Monday, USAToday said that Anvisa, the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency, reported 829 cases of COVID-19 among crew members and passengers who sailed on the five ships that have been operating in Brazil between Nov. 1 and Jan. 3.During the latter part of that period, 798 of those 829 cases emerged between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3, a 25-fold rise, according to Anvisa.
In U.S. waters, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines, among others, have canceled scheduled voyages over renewed concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks aboard ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line confirmed cancellations on eight of its vessels with embarkation dates ranging from Jan. 5 through April 23.
In Hong Kong, cruises have been halted for two weeks, until Jan. 20, as part of new government measures to stem transmission of the Omicron variant.