Cruise ships are no longer required to abide by a series of COVID-19 safety restrictions issued last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which expired on Jan. 15, allowing cruise lines discretion in applying the protocols.
The CDC has announced the expiration of its Temporary Extension and Modification of Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), a set of mandatory rules for foreign-flagged cruise ships operating in U.S. waters, including strict protocols on vaccination, testing, and mask-wearing.
“After the expiration of the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships,” the CDC said in a statement.
While the CDC made clear the new program is voluntary, it recommended cruise lines continue to follow its COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.
“Cruise lines are encouraged to continue to follow all CDC public health measures, including reporting, testing, and infection prevention and control,” the CDC said in a statement, adding that it would release the details of its voluntary COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships at a later date.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.
A number of cruise ship operators are expected to opt in to the discretionary program. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said in a statement ahead of the CSO expiry that it would continue to apply the protocols on a voluntary basis.
“Furthering our commitment to health and safety, with the expiration of the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order, our three brands have opted into the CDC’s voluntary Program, which provides the cruise industry with a set of operating provisions to protect the health and safety of guests and crew,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
Tom McAlpin, President and CEO of Virgin Voyages, told Good Morning America in an interview that aired Jan. 15, that, “of course, we’re going to opt in” to the program, adding that the protocols outlined in the CSO “are working.”
The CDC’s move was hailed by Cruise Lines International Association, an industry group.
“The transition of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to a voluntary program … recognizes the cruise industry’s unwavering commitment to providing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry,” the group said in a statement.
Some have criticized the CDC’s decision to shift to a voluntary system. Several congressional Democrats penned a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urging the agency maintain the mitigation measures as mandatory.
“While the world battles the highest surge in COVID-19 cases to date, prioritizing and strongly enforcing measures that maximize the safety of all those on board cruise ships is critical,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote in the letter (pdf).
The pair argued that “prematurely” shifting to a voluntary program could allow cruise operators to sidestep public health measures, making “conditions ripe for the continued spread of infections, jeopardizing our efforts against this pandemic, further imperiling passenger and crew safety, and threatening the operations of an industry hard-hit by the pandemic.”
Walensky told a Senate health committee earlier in the week that the spread of the highly contagious but far less virulent Omicron variant had led to a thirtyfold increase in cases on ships over the prior two weeks.
From The Epoch Times