ATLANTA — Less than a month after replacing its No Sail Order with its framework for a Conditional Sailing Order, the CDC has issued a Level 4 travel notice for U.S. travellers, for all travel worldwide on cruise and river cruise ships. Level 4 is the CDC’s highest level.
For U.S. travellers who do cruise, the CDC is advocating for a 7-day quarantine even with a negative test post-cruise, or for 14 days if no test.
“CDC recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high. It is especially important that people with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises,” reads the newly updated advisory.
The CDC adds: “Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.”
The CDC is also advising passengers who do decide to go on a cruise to get tested 3-5 days after their trip and stay home for 7 days after travel: “Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days. If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 14 days after you travel.”
In Canada, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announced on Oct. 30 that Canada had extended its cruise ship ban until Feb. 28, 2021. Canada is also still under a travel advisory against all non-essential travel.
LEVEL 3 SINCE MARCH 2020
When the CDC lifted its No Sail Order on Oct. 30, it put in its place a 40-page Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, for cruise ships operating or seeking to operate in U.S. waters. “This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., on Oct. 30.
The new order introduced a phased approach for resuming passenger cruises, with the initial phases consisting of testing and additional safeguards for crew members.
At the time, the industry saw the CDC’s announcement as a light at the end of the tunnel, keeping in mind there’s a long stretch ahead as cruise lines and CLIA work with the CDC with an eye to resuming cruise operations in the near future.
Speaking exclusively with Travelweek earlier this month, Laziza Lambert, Strategic Communications Manager at CLIA, said that while the CDC’s new Framework is a “positive step” for the cruise community, there are several complexities required before cruise lines can begin the planning process.
Up until now the CDC’s advisory for cruise travel was still at Level 3, the same level it was at since March 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
In its update to a Level 4 advisory this week, the CDC says: “At this time, CDC still recommends avoiding any travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high.”
The advisory adds: “CDC recommends that travelers avoid cruise travel worldwide. For most travelers, cruise ship travel is voluntary and should be rescheduled for a future date.”
THE SECOND WAVE’S IMPACT
Tourism industry gains made in the summer in places like Europe are evaporating in the fall months as countries step up travel restrictions and lockdown measures in an effort to flatten the curve on rising caseloads amid the second wave of COVID-19.
A number of ocean-going and river cruise companies including MSC and AmaWaterways had restarted operations in Europe over the summer, albeit with limited capacity and primarily for select European markets.
Other cruise companies with smaller ships not covered by the CDC’s No Sail Order, like UnCruise Adventures, also began limited operations this summer. In August, UnCruise Adventures got its its Alaska season underway with all the health and safety protocols in place, but then cancelled the rest of the season after three days after a case of COVID-19 on the first sailing.
At last month’s Seatrade Cruise Virtual 2020 conference, cruise line executives said they’re taking a positive but safety-minded approach to restarting cruise operations amid COVID-19.
“This is not a race and I’m in no rush to be the first one out of the gate,” said Frank Del Rio, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH).