The COVID-19 pandemic failed to fully kill the cruise industry, despite cruise ships being early hotbeds of the virus and hotbeds of contagion generally. And one year on from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issuing a no-sail order for all ships coming to U.S. ports, the industry is pushing back and saying it's being treated unfairly.
The CDC reiterated this week that its no-sail order for cruises will remain in place until November 1, 2021 — and this is the same date that was part of its revised order issued last October. After that, said agency spokesperson Caitlin Shockey, there will be "a phased approach" to restarting passenger cruises "to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19," and the details of that phasing are "currently under interagency review."
Trade associations are calling foul in recent weeks, suggesting that the cruise industry is being singled out while other industries, including air travel, have shown they're able to resume operations safely. Cruising should be able to begin again at U.S. ports in July, say industry reps, just as it already has in other parts of the world.
Kelly Craighead, the president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), issued a statement last week saying that nearly 400,000 passengers have been on cruise ships in the last eight months in 10 major cruise markets across Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. "These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19," Craighead says.
Craighead goes on to say that the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. will be a "game-changer," and, "The cruise industry has adopted a high bar for resumption around the world with a multi-layered set of policies that is intended to be revised as conditions change."
"The outdated [no-sail order], which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently," Craighead says. "Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality, and entertainment sectors."
The CDC doesn't seem to see it that way, however, even as Royal Caribbean announced resumption of cruises from Jamaica with vaccinations required for all passengers (or negative COVID tests for those under 16), as KTVU reports.
And, you may recall, the cruise industry previously tried to push to restart cruising last fall as case numbers were falling in the U.S., initially suggesting they could resume last October 31!
This debate comes with the backdrop of a fourth wave of COVID-19 infection happening across Europe, and as the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, gave a speech Monday warning of "impending doom" in this country as cases are on the rise. Specifically, case numbers are spiking across the Northeast and in Michigan, even as vaccination percentages continue to rise, foreshadowing a potential fourth surge for states including New York, where the first surge took hold at this time last year.
Also, Brazil is in the grips of a terrible surge right now thanks to the P.1 variant that successfully infects people previously infected by earlier strains of COVID. As of Tuesday, 3,700 Brazilians are dying every day from the virus.
The CDC is still discouraging non-essential travel for everyone, including the fully vaccinated, so it would hardly make sense to suddenly talk about allowing the least essential of all modes of travel, cruise ships.
Remarkably, though, when cruising does resume, there are likely plenty of Americans eager to jump back onboard — including that dancing grandma from the Diamond Princess, despite the outbreak and the quarantine situation and all the rest. The New York Times spoke to some cruise-addicted folks back in September, all of whom said they were looking forward to their next cruise, once there was a vaccine.
Photo: Stephanie Klepacki