Major cruise lines have opted in to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Voluntary Covid Cruise Ship Program before the deadline of Friday, February 18.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (comprising NCL, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas); Royal Caribbean Group (encompassing RCI, Celebrity and Silversea); Princess Cruises; Carnival Cruise Line; Sea Dream Yacht Club; Azamara and Virgin Voyages, have all joined the programme.
Earlier this month the CDC lowered its advisory for the cruise industry from Level 4 to Level 3 and softened its guidelines on the voluntary programme, giving the cruise lines more discretion regarding implementation of the protocols.
The CDC has been criticised by the industry over the previously compulsory protocols – critics claimed the CDC treated the cruise industry unfairly, with cruise operators’ protocols far exceeding those required of land operators.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said the CDC reverting to a voluntary risk mitigation programme recognised that the cruise industry had “upheld an unwavering commitment” to taking preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19 on ships.
“Cruise is the only segment of travel and tourism that requires, prior to embarkation for both passengers and crew, exceedingly high levels of vaccination (approaching 100% compared with only 63% of the US population) and 100% testing of every individual (21 times the rate of the US on land),” the CLIA stated.
Now, cruise ships will have more discretion over isolation and quarantine periods for asymptomatic passengers who have been in close contact with a positive case. Previous protocols demanded 10 days total isolation and a test on day 10 before release.
Isolation period for vaxxed passengers and those who have had a booster, have been lowered to five days for asymptomatic close-contact passengers. Asymptomatic close contacts who are not up to date with vaccinations require 10 days’ quarantine.
Isolation and quarantine may be replaced with daily tests. Fully vaccinated close contacts may be tested daily for five days instead of isolating, but they must, during those five days, take meals in their cabin and wear properly fitting masks when not in their cabins, and wear their masks if anyone else enters the cabin. Passengers who are not up to date with their vaccinations may have their isolation reduced by five days, but once released must follow the same rules on dining and masking.
Cruising vessels that elect not to continue following the recommendations set out by the CDC will be classified as ‘grey’ on the agency’s Cruise Ship Colour status list. This indicates that the CDC has not reviewed or confirmed the particular ship’s health and safety protocols.
‘Red’ vessels have reported cases of COVID-19 at or above the threshold for CDC investigation, ‘yellow’ meet the threshold, ‘orange’ are below the threshold, and ‘green’ ships have no reported cases of COVID-19.
Vaccination status tier introduced
The CDC has also implemented a vaccination status category for cruise ships, where ‘highly vaccinated’ ships have at least 95% of passengers and crews confirmed as fully vaccinated.
Ships with less than a 95% vaccination rate are classified ‘not highly vaccinated’, and any ship with at least 95% of passengers and crew both vaccinated and up to date with booster vaccine doses have a ‘vaccination standard of excellence’.