The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has confirmed that the Conditional Sail Order it introduced in 2020 remains on track to become voluntary from January 15th.
The CDC’s plan to transition to a voluntary CSO framework comes despite the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, and its recent advice for all Americans to avoid cruise travel regardless of their vaccination status.
“After the expiration of the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO on January 15, 2022, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders,” a spokesperson for the CDC told Cruise Critic.
The spokesperson added that the CDC would continue to support the cruise industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships.
Cruise Critic noted in its report that the vast majority of cruise lines are likely to continue to follow the guidelines implemented as part of the Conditional Sail Order, with many having already extended their health and safety protocols well into 2022.
The Conditional Sail Order was introduced in October, 2020 in order to provide a framework for cruise lines to resume operations from US ports. It replaced the CDC’s No Sail Order, which was introduced in March, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and banned all cruise operations in the United States.
Despite the transition to a Conditional Sail Order in October last year, it wasn’t until June this year that cruises began to resume in the United States.
The Conditional Sail Order is an extensive set of health and safety protocols cruise lines have to follow to operate ships safely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
These include mandatory COVID-19 reporting regulations, which have resulted in the North American cruise market operating in a far more transparent manner than other regions.
Cruise lines have gone further than the protocols outlined by the CSO, implementing mask mandates, vaccine requirements and operating at reduced capacity in response to the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus.
Although the CDC is still planning to transition to a voluntary framework later this month, it has advised Americans to avoid all cruise travel, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose,” the CDC’s new Level 4 warning, the highest level of advisory, reads.
The CDC said its updated guidance was based on increasing cases of COVID-19 being reported on US cruise ships, with more than 5,000 cases identified in the final two weeks of December alone.
Cruise Line International Association accused the CDC of unfairly targeting the cruise industry, which tests all passengers, reports COVID-19 cases to the authorities and isolates those who are infected in a way that other sectors of the travel industry do not.
It further pointed out that the cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a slim minority of the total population onboard, with the majority either asymptomatic or “mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore”.