Nearly a year into the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, many countries are easing restrictions to rebuild their economies. At the same time, many industries are trying to return to a new normal, one of which being the cruise sector. Prior to the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and COVID-19, the cruise industry represented 2% of the worldwide travel and tourism industry.
The current scientific evidence suggests that cruise ships pose a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than other settings because of the high population density onboard, typically more densely populated than cities or most other living situations.
Now, with the need to resume operations, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a new guideline on the safe resumption of cruise ship passenger operations.
Lifting of the no-sail order
Meanwhile, the CDC also announced it would lift its “no-sail order” on cruises, which banned large cruise ships from operating in U.S. waters since March. Effective Nov. 1, the ban will be replaced with a conditional sailing order, with ships required to adhere to new health protocols.
Between Mar. 14 and Oct. 29, the “no-sail order” has been in place to contain the coronavirus’s spread in cruise ships, which occurred in the Grand Princess in the Port of Oakland, with 122 confirmed cases, among others.
From July to September, the CDC has studied interventions and protocols for protecting the public’s welfare and health on cruise ships, including the passengers and crew members. A survey performed by the health agency found that a majority of the passengers support the resumption of operations provided that increased public health measures are observed.
As of Oct. 30, the CDC will issue the resumption of passenger operations and will take a phased approach to achieve it. The initial phases include testing and additional policies applicable to crew members. These include adequate health and safety protections for employees and, at the same time, building an onboard laboratory capacity needed to test everybody on board.
What is the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order?
The Framework for Conditional Sailing Order introduces a phased approach to a safe and responsible resumption of passenger cruises. The new order highlights policies and guidelines for the cruise line industry to follow so they can resume passenger operations while preventing the further spread of the virus on ships.
“This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing. It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live,” Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC Director, said.
“CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers,” he added.
The initial phases include testing and additional policies applicable to crew members. These include adequate health and safety protections for employees and, at the same time, building an onboard laboratory capacity needed to test everybody on board.
A phased approach is crucial in resuming cruise ship operations since the pandemic is far from over. Establishing protocols and health safety measures is vital to provide a safe travel experience among passengers.
The CDC reiterated that its primary goal is to resume passenger sailing, but only when it is safe to do so. With this, cruise line companies should demonstrate adherence to testing, quarantine, isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect their passengers and crew members.
The succeeding phases include mock or simulated voyages with volunteers acting as passengers to test the operator’s ability to reduce the COVID-19 risk. Further, the operator should meet health protocol requirements and certifications.
“Our member lines are 100 percent committed to helping to protect the health of our guests, our crew and the communities we serve and are prepared to implement multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge,” Kelly Craighead, president, and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said.
“We look forward to reviewing the new Order and are optimistic that it is an important step toward returning our ships to service from U.S. ports,” she added.
Cruise ship operators are required to prepare during the initial phases by establishing a laboratory team for COVID-19 testing on board, updating its technical instructions, updating its color-coding system to indicate ship status, and updating the Enhanced Data Collection (EDC) During COVID-19 Pandemic Form for proper passenger surveillance.
The coronavirus pandemic has now infected over 46.4 million people and killed at least 1.19 million. The U.S. reports the highest case toll, reaching over 9.19 million.