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CDC OK of travel for vaccinated Americans seen as step toward cruise resumption

Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel 'at low risk to themselves' in the US and abroad, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said
Cruise lines welcomed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance that Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel 'at low risk to themselves' in the US and abroad.

'Hopefully their next step will be to say if you are vaccinated you can go on a cruise operating [from] the US,' Mark Conroy, managing director, the Americas, Silversea Cruises, told Seatrade Cruise News.

'We are hoping more countries will agree to the same,' Conroy said. He added that if everyone's vaccinated, it may be reasonable to ease on-board protocols a bit and it is possible that having everyone inoculated would eliminate the need to quarantine a ship should there be a case.

New guidance specifics

'For domestic travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID test before or after travel and do not need to self-quarantine after travel,' CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday. '... For international travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before they leave the United States, unless it is required by their destination.

'However, fully vaccinated people should get tested and have a negative test result before they board an international flight back into the United States, but they do not need to quarantine when they arrive here,' Walensky said.

Even so, she added, vaccinated people who take an international trip should still be tested three to five days after arriving in the US on an international flight.

Masks and other precautions still needed

The CDC guidance reiterated that all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wear masks on buses, trains and other forms of public transportation.

Walensky announced the updated the guidance following several newly released studies documenting the real-world effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Until this, all Americans had been advised to avoid nonessential travel.

'Major step in the right direction'

'The CDC’s new travel guidance is a major step in the right direction that is supported by the science and will take the brakes off the industry that has been hardest hit by the fallout of COVID by far. As travel comes back, US jobs come back,' US Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said.

'The CDC’s data suggests that vaccinated individuals don’t transmit the coronavirus, which opens the door much wider for resuming travel, albeit while continuing to carefully follow other health best practices,' Dow continued. 'Acknowledging that vaccinations eliminate the need for testing and quarantines removes a key barrier to domestic travel. Rescinding the recommendation that international visitors must quarantine also is an important incremental step.'

Vaccination the future for travel

Silversea's Conroy noted that Royal Caribbean Group and other cruise operators have 'proven we can effectively operate a bubble cruise but vaccinations and herd immunity in the long run are the entire travel industry’s future.'

He pointed out that Iceland and Greece are open to vaccinated travelers, adding 'We hope the rest of the EU, UK and others go along with the same idea.

'Vaccination will simplify all of our lives,' Conroy said, because most countries are expected to require it: 'If you have a vaccination, come. If you don’t, then don’t bother trying.'

Israel, Greece, Ecuador helping with crew vaccination

According to Conroy, the challenge is getting crew vaccinated but countries like Israel, Greece and Ecuador that want to get tourism going are assisting with that. Royal Caribbean International will be sailing from Israel and a number of lines from Greece, while Galápagos operators like Silversea are eager to restart there.

Protocols may ease a bit with vaccination mandate

Even with vaccination, cruise lines will still have many protocols in place, but Conroy thinks they probably won't have to be as stringent if everyone is inoculated.

Vaccination should also 'eliminate the need to quarantine the ship should a case be found, which is what has kept us from starting in the Galápagos,' he added. 'If everyone is vaccinated, it should not be a problem or a problem getting back home when the cruise or tour is over.'

So, Conroy's advice to cruisers: 'If you want to travel, in 2021 at least, get vaccinated.'