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CDC tells cruise lines cruises could restart by mid-July from the U.S.

Sunset ship

Perhaps the best hint that cruises could actually restart from the U.S. came in a new update from the CDC.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) sent a letter to the cruise lines late on Wednesday night providing additional insight and guidance for how cruise ships could restart sailings.

The letter was sent by Aimee Treffiletti, who is the CDC's head of the Maritime Unit for CDC's COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force for COVID-19.

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In the letter, the CDC outlined five major changes that greatly improve the chances for cruises to resume this summer.

  • Ships can skip the test voyages carrying volunteers and resume sailings with fare-paying passengers with 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers fully vaccinated. This replaces previous guidance that required test cruising for all ships leaving from U.S. ports.
  • For cruise lines that aren't committing to that vaccination threshold, test cruises will be required. The CDC has agreed to review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within five days rather than 60 days, as originally outlined.
  • CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew on sailings with paying passengers to align with its own guidance for fully vaccinated people. For example, fully vaccinated people will now be able to take a rapid antigen COVID-19 test before embarkation, as opposed to a PCR test.
  • CDC has clarified cruise ship operators may enter into a "multiport agreement" rather than a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement.
  • The CDC has clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who might have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19. For example, local passengers may to drive home, while passengers who have traveled by air to cruise may quarantine in a hotel.

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Treffiletti also clarified the CDC's position on cruise ships, acknowledging it is not a zero-risk goal, "We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities."

"We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO by mid-summer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines."

The update comes weeks after the CDC released guidance at the beginning of April, which was largely panned by the cruise industry as cumbersome and out of touch.

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During Royal Caribbean Group's earnings call with analysts on Thursday, executives called the letter, "very constructive" and pointed it to be a positive sign.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke about the new instructions during the opening minutes of the call, "We believe that this communication really helps us to see a clear and achievable pathway forward to a safe and healthy cruising in the near future."

He did caution it is still too early to know exactly what the future may hold, and there are additional questions to be answered. However, he has "high hopes that these details can be resolved quickly."

"It could be possible to restart cruising by mid-July."