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US announces framework for phased resumption of cruise operations

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a framework for the phased resumption of cruise ship operations in the United States.

First: Crew testing and capability for passenger testing

The initial phases will consist of testing and additional safeguards for crew members. CDC said it will ensure cruise ship operators have adequate health and safety protections for crew while operators build the laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers.

Trial voyages

Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements and a phased return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among travelers, crew and US communities.

Subject to change based on key factors

These phases are subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise operators’ demonstrated ability to mitigate risk.

CDC said it will issue additional orders as needed that will be published in the Federal Register and technical instructions that will be subsequently posted on its website.

CDC's order additionally announced requirements for the initial phases relating to crew testing. The agency considers adequate crew safeguards as demonstrated through laboratory testing for COVID-19 an integral part of the initial phases prior to beginning passenger operations.

Testing 1, 2, 3 ...

The 40-page order contains requirements for multiple layers of testing, including at disembarkation.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield's order came one day before the no-sail order was to expire. Ships carrying more than 250 souls have not been allowed to carry passengers to or from the US since March 14.

In issuing the 'conditional' sail order, CDC stated that 'Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is very challenging,' adding: 'Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas provide current evidence that cruise ship travel facilitates and amplifies transmission of COVID-19 — even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities — and would likely spread the disease into US communities if passenger operations were to resume in the United States without public health oversight.'

Preventing the seeding of outbreaks at ports and in communities

'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,' Redfield 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.'

A phased approach is necessary, CDC explained, because of the continued spread of COVID-19 worldwide, risk of resurgence in countries that have suppressed transmission, ongoing concerns related to restarting of cruising internationally and need for additional time for the cruise industry to test the effectiveness of measures to control potential COVID-19 transmission on board with passengers, without burdening public health.

CLIA's commitment

Cruise Lines International Association said it looks forward to working with CDC to advance a return to cruising.

CLIA members are '100% 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,' the association said, adding: 'We will continue to evolve our approach as circumstances evolve.'

Noting that the economic consequences of the ongoing suspension of service are felt in communities across the US and with hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, CLIA pledged to resume sailing in a responsible manner that keeps public health in the forefront.

'While we look forward to reviewing the new order in detail, we expect much of the Healthy Sail Panel’s recommendations, which were adopted by CLIA’s global board of directors earlier this month, have been considered and will serve as an important foundation,' CLIA President and CEO Kelly Craighead said.

'Reassuring to have a clear sense of direction'

'It is reassuring to learn we have a clear sense of direction on a phased-in approach and guidelines for a safe resumption of cruising,' said Michelle Fee, CEO & founder, Cruise Planners.

'We are confident in the cruise line's abilities to implement the health and safety protocols. It will be a happy day when cruisers can return to the seas and travel advisors can help their clients plan their cruise vacations.'