The US cruise industry could restart in mid-July following an update from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cruise leaders have confirmed.
Royal Caribbean Group chairman and chief executive Richard Fain hailed a CDC letter to the industry late on April 28 saying it marked “a significant improvement in the extent and quality of our dialogue with the CDC”.
Fain said: “We now have high hopes it could be possible to restart cruising by mid-July.”
The CDC letter confirmed cruises could restart in mid-July with 95% of passengers vaccinated.
Speaking as Royal Caribbean Group reported a $1.1 billion loss for the three months to March, Fain said: “The CDC letter really does reflect a desire to treat us similarly to other sectors.”
But he noted: “This is a very complex area and a great many details have still to be provided.”
He insisted: “We won’t immediately go for a full restart. It will be gradual. But the communication is very positive.”
The CDC letter clarified several points about the restart in response to industry questions:
Ships will be able to bypass a requirement for ‘simulated test’ [trial] voyages with volunteers and move straight to sailing with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated;
The CDC will review applications for trial voyages within five days and not 60 days as previously stated;
The CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew to align with guidance for fully vaccinated people;
Cruise operators may enter into multi-port agreements rather than single-port agreements;
And quarantine guidelines for passengers exposed to Covid-19 have been clarified.
A CDC spokesperson confirmed a “timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July” is achievable.
The update came following sharp industry criticism of the CDC and guidance on its Framework for Conditional Sailing issued on April 1. Cruise association Clia described this as “unduly burdensome [and] largely unworkable”.
Fain said: “The CDC addressed uncertainties and concerns we raised. This helps us see a clear and achievable pathway forward.
“[It] opens up the possibility of cruises to restart this summer.”
But he added: “There are still a great many details to be provided and others that need to be resolved. We have high hopes these details can be resolved quickly. [But] we need to be cautious.
“It could be possible to restart by mid-July. I would emphasize that does not mean we will immediately go into full operation. We’re hopeful about restarting. [But] that restart will be gradual and deliberate.”
Royal Caribbean Group chief financial officer Jason Liberty said: “We’ve been in constructive dialogue with the CDC about elements of the Conditional Sail Order (CSO) that were unrealistic.”
Royal Caribbean International president and chief executive Michael Bayley added: “Fundamentally, there will be two pathways, one for vaccinated crew and largely vaccinated passengers [and] a different pathway for ships that don’t meet that threshold.
“There will be more protocols with the non-vaccinated than vaccinated. There will be more tests and more costs, and we need to look at that.”
Fain noted: “The timeline and the process have improved significantly. The target is mid-July and that is looking realistic. But there is still a lot to clarify.”
He suggested sailings could resume in time for the Alaska cruise season despite a Canadian ban on Alaskan cruises until 2022.
The Alaskan cruise season normally runs through the summer to September.
Fain said: “Canada has put a stop in place throughout the season so we would need a waiver or Canada would need to allow technical stops. We’re working on both but we can’t be certain where that will end up.
“We think we’ll be in time for the Alaska season and we hope we will be able to solve the issue with Canada.”
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