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Mandating crew/guest vaccination, NCLH seeks CDC OK to start cruising July 4

NCLH logo.jpg
In a gutsy move, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings broke out of the pack by submitting a plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resume operating from US ports in July, with a vaccination mandate for passengers and crew.

NCLH is the parent of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Protocols in line with CDC's updated guidance for international travel

The company's letter to the CDC outlined its SailSAFE Health and Safety Program developed in conjunction with globally recognized experts, including the Healthy Sail Panel. NCLH said its plan is consistent with the CDC’s updated guidance that international travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals and that COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of cruise ship travel.

By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, the company believes it shares in the spirit and exceeds the intent of the CDC’s conditional sailing order to advance mutual public health goals and protect passengers, crew and the communities it visits.

July 4 target

NCLH said it 'trusts and is optimistic the CDC will agree that mandatory vaccination requirements eliminate the need for the CSO and therefore requests for the lifting of the order' for Norwegian’s vessels, allowing them to cruise from US ports starting on or around July 4.

The ships would begin sailing at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up the fleet departing from US ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.

Vaccination key

'We congratulate the CDC on the steps it has taken to further open travel for vaccinated Americans. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings shares the CDC’s view that vaccinations are the primary vehicle for Americans to get back to their everyday lives,' NCLH President and CEO Frank Del Rio said. 'We believe that through a combination of 100% mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew and science-backed public health measures as developed by the Healthy Sail Panel, led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb, we can create a safe, "bubble-like" environment for guests and crew. We look forward to joining the rest of the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery.'

'We will not require [government] resources' to provide medical assistance

NCLH said that having the entire population on board its ships vaccinated 'reduces the risk of outbreaks and severe COVID-19 cases. 

'Accordingly, we will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands’ guests as we have invested tens of millions of dollars in enhanced on-board health and safety protocols, including, but not limited to, enhanced hospital grade air filtration systems, cutting-edge contact tracing technology and significantly upgraded ICU and quarantine medical facilities,' NCLH said.

'Our vessels are well equipped to handle the one-off case of infection that could occur, and our procedures are well detailed and resourced to treat, address and otherwise handle any isolated case on board.'

Current vaccine mandate for cruises embarking through October

Passenger vaccination requirements are currently for all cruises embarking through Oct. 31. The company said it will follow the science to make determinations on requirements for future sailings.

For now, travelers must present proof of having been fully inoculated with an FDA-, EMA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to their cruise.

Since vaccination isn't available for children, this means no kids to be carried initially, reducing a risk that has concerned some in the industry pertaining to start-ups outside the US.

Testing at embarkation and disembarkation

All passengers will still have to take a COVID-19 antigen test, administered and paid for by the cruise line, prior to boarding. In addition, a second antigen test will be administered prior to disembarkation.

Aboard ship, masks will be required indoors except while eating and drinking in restaurants, bars and lounges, outdoors when physical distancing is not possible and at embarkation/disembarkation.

Nearly 400,000 people have already cruised worldwide

NCLH noted that while the risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated in its entirety, over the past eight months the cruise industry has successfully carried nearly 400,000 passengers in more than 10 major cruise markets outside the US with only a few isolated COVID-19 cases that were effectively identified, contained and mitigated without impacting the health or interrupting the vacations of others.

This was all done prior to the availability of widespread vaccination.