The pandemic has hit the cruise industry as hard as it has hit any business sector. The ships have been docked or at sea with skeleton crews for more than a year because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made it illegal for Royal Caribbean (RLC) – Get the Royal Caribbean group report, Carnival (CCA) – Get Carnival Corporation report, Norwegian (NCLH) – Get the report from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Disney (SAY) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report Cruise Line and other players in the sailing industry as Covid raged.
Meanwhile, the industry got to work, hiring top infectious disease doctors, improving air filtration and creating protocols to make cruising viable during a highly contagious pandemic.
Those efforts paid off somewhat in July when the CDC began allowing some crossings from U.S. ports as part of its conditional sailing order.
Strict standards have been put in place
Standards were strict and major cruise lines sailed with limited (albeit increasing) passenger numbers, 100% vaccinated crews and vaccination requirements for all passengers of vaccination age.
Additionally, masks have been required to varying degrees, with the omicron requiring all passengers – even those who are vaccinated – to wear face coverings except when eating or drinking.
It has not been an easy time for the industry and the CDC has not always been a willing partner.
That’s partly because Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, and even Disney cruise ships aren’t registered in the United States. all, restrictions.
Now, however, even as omicron rages on, the CDC has not only lifted its conditional shipping order, but its director has praised the industry’s actions.
CDC drops conditional shipping order
In October 2021, the CDC said it would let the conditional veil order expire on January 15. Just days away from that day, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told Congress on Tuesday that Covid-19 regulations would move from mandatory to voluntary on Jan. 15, Matt Hochberg of the Royal Caribbean Blog reported.
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“I think the conditional sail order and the fact that the industry has escalated and is now interested in doing and going beyond, as you know, respecting the sail order without the order even necessarily need to be in place, is a true testament to how well it worked and how we worked collaboratively with industry,” she said.
The CSO was originally called the “no sail order” and it shut down cruise lines for over a year. The major cruise lines have all kept their Covid protocols in place, and even tightened them, despite the CSO expiring on January 15.
“Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines have already committed to following CSO whether it is mandatory or not. Cruise lines first indicated they would follow CSO after Florida’s legal victory over the CDC in the summer of 2021,” wrote Hochberg, whose blog is not affiliated with Royal Caribbean.
What’s next for cruise passengers?
Omicron has increased the number of positive cases among fully vaccinated crew members.
This has led Royal Caribbean to cancel a handful of cruises and delay the return of service for Serenade of the Seas. Instead, this ship will be used as a sort of hospital ship for quarantined crew members. This allows the cruise line to keep infected crew members away from uninfected crewmates, which should minimize transmission.
Various cruise line executives have gone out of their way to point out that the protocols may not be able to stop transmission, but they can help contain outbreaks. Royal Caribbean Chairman Michael Bayley shared in a recent Facebook post that infection rates on board are much lower than rates ashore.
“With typical sailing having between 95% and 98% of the onboard population fully vaccinated and all guests tested before embarkation and all crew tested weekly, reception staff now being tested every three days and all the world wearing masks the vast majority of the time, along with social distancing, sanitizing, etc. “, he wrote. We now have a positivity rate well below the national rate and well below our major home states such as Florida, California, Texas, etc., and well under Broward and Miami-Dade in Florida, both counties home to our largest homeports of Miami and Port Everglades.”
Going forward, investors (and people booking cruises) should expect continued protocol changes and occasional cancellations. The end of the conditional sail order changes little, but it remains a milestone for an industry that has been sidelined for more than a year.
Daniel Kline holds long-term positions at Royal Caribbean and Walt Disney.
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