Cruise ships have been given permission to sail in US waters after a pause of eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a national public health institute in the United States, has issued guidelines for the safe resumption of cruising in its ‘Framework for Conditional Sailing Order’, which replaces its previous ban. The no-sail order had been due to expire on Sunday following a number of extensions.
Many operators have already cancelled their remaining 2020 itineraries due to the uncertainty caused by the virus.
But despite this relaxation of rules, passengers won’t be allowed on board during this phased approach. Simulation sailings will be the first to leave US ports as a way of showing how operators have complied with the CDC’s Covid-19 protocols.
At first the focus is “crew-centric”, the CDC said, ensuring the safety, such as adequate testing facilities, for workers. There has been no date set as to when the public will be able to sail.
“During the initial phases, cruise ship operators must demonstrate adherence to testing, quarantine and isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect crew members while they build the laboratory capacity needed to test crew and future passengers.”
A spokesperson for the CDC confirmed that mock voyages would follow, with employees and their families – similar to test sailings that new ships undertake before their maiden voyage.
Asked when passengers are likely to be able to board, Martin Cetron, the director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told USA Today: “I’m smart enough after 10 months of this pandemic not to speculate like that.”
“It’s basically the virus’ numbers against human ingenuity.”
The new order will apply until November 1, 2021, or until the director of the CDC alters it. It could also be lifted if the US government no longer considers Covid-19 a public health emergency.
Telegraph Travel cruise expert Dave Monk said: “The CDC decision means cruising in the US is coming back – but it won’t all be plain sailing. The 40-page framework contains many conditions before passengers will be allowed back on board. Most cruise lines have already postponed their restart until 2021 and it will still be some time before cruising returns in any meaningful way.
“However, it’s a welcome development and means passengers and crew can once again look forward to the joy of being at sea.”
The news has also been welcomed by the Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry’s largest trade body.
“The cruise industry and the CDC have a long track record of working together in the interest of public health, and we look forward to continuing to build upon this legacy to support the resumption of cruising from US ports,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s president and chief executive.
“With enhanced measures in place, and with the continued guidance of leading experts in health and science as well as the CDC, we are confident that a resumption of cruising in the US is possible to support the economic recovery while maintaining a focus on effective and science-based measures to protect public health.”
While America is looking at opening up its waters, the situation remains unclear in Europe.
Since the summer a number of ocean and river cruise operators have successfully resumed sailing. But with cases of coronavirus surging across the continent, many countries have returned to lockdown, putting an end to holidays until restrictions are lifted.
In July, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office updated their guidelines to advise British nationals against any travel on sea-going ships.
There had been hopes that this would be lifted following the publication of CLIA’s guidelines to the safe return of cruises but the advice remains in place as England gets set to enter a second nationwide lockdown.