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CDC lifts cruise ship ban with conditional restart plan

Carnival sunshine top deck

After seven months of the cruise industry being shutdown in the United States, it looks like it may be coming to an end.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Friday the No Sail order will not be extended at the end of October, and instead permit cruise lines to demonstrate they can start cruising again safely.

The No Sail order was set to expire on October 31, but will instead be lifted so that cruise lines can attempt a conditional, phased-in return to cruise ship operations.

There will be a few phases to how cruises can restart, beginning with testing and implemented safeguards for crew members.  Then, carefully monitored non-revenue test sailings will commence, and if all goes well, cruises could start up again with passengers.

Port of Miami

"Considering the continued spread of COVID-19 worldwide and increased risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships, a careful approach is needed to safely resume cruise ship passenger operations."

"CDC is establishing requirements to mitigate the COVID-19 risk to passengers and crew, prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from cruise ships into U.S. communities, and protect public health and safety."

The CDC statement did say it considered extending the no-sail order but "this alternative was not found to be as optimal” as the conditional return to service."

"The benefits of this framework outweigh the costs of not allowing cruise ships to sail because it allows for flexibility where cruise ships have taken the necessary precautions to mitigate risk, while continuing to prohibit passenger operations onboard ships that have failed to implement such precautions. As such, the current framework represents a tailored approach that was determined to be preferable to the status quo no-sail order."

Star Princess aerial

Still work to be done

While the Conditional Sailing Order allows a path for cruise lines to restart, there is still more work to be done.

Every cruise line will need to apply to the CDC for permission to sail. This application is based on new health and safety protocols, and this approval can be approved or denied at any time.

Simulated cruises will be a major first step to demonstrate that the cruise lines can handle a variety of scenarios, including drills for various outbreak scenarios.

Liberty of the Seas sports deck

In addition, the CDC will still have oversight on limiting the capacity of the ship, which ports ships may sail to, itineraries and even onboard activities.

Ships must conduct "laboratory testing" of all passengers and crew on embarkation and disembarkation in line with CDC guidelines.

If there is a positive case onboard, the cruise line must be able to disembark and transport guests and crew using non-commercial transportation.

Cruise lines committed to restarting safely

Aft of Symphony

The cruise industry immediately issued its support for this change of policy by the CDC and promised to prepare for cruises to return.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a statement following the CDC's announcement.

"Guided by the recommendations of leading experts in health and science, including the Healthy Sail Panel (HSP), our members are 100% committed to helping to protect the health of our guests, our crew and the communities we serve, and are prepared to implement multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge. We will continue to evolve our approach as circumstances evolve. The economic consequences of the ongoing suspension of service are felt in communities across the United States and with hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, we are committed to resume sailing in a responsible manner that keeps public health in the forefront. We look forward to reviewing the Order in greater detail and working with the CDC to advance a return to cruising from U.S. ports."

CLIA believes the fact some cruise lines have already implemented the new health protocols needed for cruises to restart in Europe demonstrates U.S. cruises are poised for a similar plan.

CLIA president and CEO Kelly Craighead offered her approval of the industry's plan, "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 U.S. ports. 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 U.S. is possible to support the economic recovery while maintaining a focus on effective and science-based measures to protect public health."

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