Are the technical guidelines the CDC released the guidelines we’ve all been waiting for, and a pathway for the cruise lines to resume service? Or is it just another empty shell? So far, the guidelines seem to be nothing more than additional requirements and some clarification on existing requirements.
The CDC has not given any precise dates for when cruising can resume, neither has it given the green light for test cruises to start. CEO Captain John Murray of Port Canaveral calls the CDC’s guidelines disappointing.
Just More Requirements- No Clear Objectives
It seems then that the CDC has made life just a little more difficult for the cruise lines. Not only has the conditional sailing order not been lifted, something many have asked for in recent weeks, in particular Royal Caribbean’s Richard D. Fain and Florida Governor DeSantis.
Many will be asking if this really is phase two of the Conditional Sail Order, as the instructions provided do not seem to be of a caliber that takes five months to prepare.
A question Captain Murray of Port Canaveral wonders about as well:
“For a year now, we have been working closely with our cruise partners and directly with the CDC to find a way forward for the return of cruising from Port Canaveral. Just today CDC announced vaccinated Americans could safely travel internationally. We’re disappointed that this guidance for the cruise industry appears to be nothing more than an incremental step in a far-reaching process to resume passenger sailings in the U.S. with no definitive or target start date.”
What Is Really In The New Guidelines?
As it stands currently, the new guidelines that the CDC has issued do not speed up a return of cruising anytime soon. The cruise lines have no guidance on when they would start test cruises; there is no guidance on restart dates.
Although we knew that phase two would always only be some additional technical guidance from the CDC, what they have released now seems to be disappointing for everyone in the cruise industry.
The CDC has said the requirements and possibility for test sailings will only be made available on the next phase, which will be phase three:
The next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow the crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.
The CDC is now recommending the public, port workers, and crew members onboard are all vaccinated and plans to take this into account for a resumption of cruising:
COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations. As more people are fully vaccinated, the phased approach allows CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so. CDC recommends that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them.
We can take away from this that the CDC will likely favor cruise lines that make a 100% vaccination grade mandatory for all passengers and crew.
Cruise lines will also need to implement a timeline for vaccinating crew members and port personnel, effectively making vaccination mandatory for those working on board or with the ships. Keep in mind, the CDC is not saying guests must be vaccinated, it only recommends it.
Port and Medical Agreements
The new guidelines heavily feature the need for agreements between ports, ships, and medical facilities in case of an outbreak.
The good thing here is that most, if not all, of these measures, are already in place for the cruise lines under their Outbreak prevention plans. A few key points to take away from this and which must be included are:
Ensure disembarking and embarking passengers, from the same and from different ships do not occupy the same enclosed or semi-enclosed areas (e.g., gangways, terminal waiting spaces, check-in areas) within the same 12-hour period.
The above means ships will need to do late embarkations to accommodate this, or embarkations and debarks will need to take place in different areas of the port, using different gangways, and different terminal waiting areas.
It could very well mean ships will have to do embarkation and debark on separate days to accommodate the 12 hours period.
Agreements must include clear protocols that avoid medical evacuations at sea to the greatest extent possible for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related medical reasons, and plans must be in place to deal with any COVID-19 related incidences on board, any possible or confirmed infections, confirmed quarantine, and medical facilities onboard and ashore, and last but not least an evacuation plan which does not rely on help from outside.
All in all, the guidelines are disappointing, create even more regulations and protocols for the cruise lines, and provide no clear path for cruises to resume in the near future.
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Let’s not forget most cruise lines have already sailed numerous times in other parts of the world, the current regulations as released by the CDC look like the agency is re-inventing the wheel.
The cruise lines will be seeking further clarification from the CDC in the coming days, as more information becomes available and the CDC can clarify the points specified, we will see where we actually stand after today.