Battle of the Seas: Cruise Traces vs. the C.D.C.

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Battle of the Seas: Cruise Lines vs. the C.D.C.

In the US, flights are filling up, hotels are being booked, vacation rentals are sold out, and car rental companies are facing shortages due to rising demand.

One sector, however, remains stalled: the cruise industry.

Cruise ships departing from United States ports have been docked for more than a year after a number of coronavirus outbreaks surfaced on board ships at the beginning of the pandemic. Now cruise lines can only resume operations according to the established rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October.

Earlier this month, the C.D.C. published a set of technical guidelines designed to help cruise lines prepare their ships to start sailing again, according to the rules set out in the agency's regulations Framework for conditional sails order. However, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade group in the industry, described the instructions as "so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be seen".

Cruise companies have asked the agency to revise their policies to accommodate the rapid roll-out of vaccinations and allow U.S. cruises to restart in July. But the C.D.C. hasn't set a deadline yet, and current rules require cruise ships to go through a month-long process that includes simulation trips to test their health and safety protocols, followed by a review period.

"The cruise industry as a whole is very frustrated," said Stewart Chiron, cruise industry analyst and chief executive of news site cruiseguy.com. “Travel is resumed at a very high level. Planes and hotels are full, and no industry is better for a restart than a cruise. The lines have been prepared, safety protocols in place, and given the high level of vaccine distribution, now is a good time to resume operations. "

In response to the C.D.C. Some cruise lines are moving their ships overseas for summer cruises from overseas ports, including the Caribbean and Europe, where they are allowed to sail. Many trips require adult passengers and crew members to be vaccinated.

Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, has warned that it could look outside of the U.S. if the C.D.C. continues to prevent cruises from sailing inland.

CLIA paints the C.D.C. as an unfair target for the industry and points to the global economic impact of the initial cessation of cruise operations from mid-March to September last year, the last period for which statistics are available. According to the group, there has been a loss of $ 50 billion in economic activity, 334,000 jobs and $ 15 billion in wages.

However, health experts point to the number and severity of outbreaks on ships over the past year, when, for example, more than 700 people were infected with the virus and 14 people died on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. "The CDC wants to keep people from getting sick, and the cruise lines want to get back to business and make money," said Tara Kirk Sell, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "So there will be a central separation and tension if we do sorting us through this pandemic that isn't over and we're still trying to find out. "

The state of Florida is home to Port Miami, the world's busiest cruise port, and it probably has the most to lose when cruise lines shift more voyages to the nearby Caribbean.

Earlier this month, Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (both Republicans), along with Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan (also Republicans) introduced the Cruise Act, which, if passed, will repeal and require the agency's conditional sailing ordinance would issue new guidelines for restarting US drives. (Due to a quirk of maritime law, several major cruise lines have canceled trips to Alaska all in 2021.)

"With the way this goes, it appears that the C.D.C. doesn't want the cruise industry to be in business for not making the rules so that the cruise industry believes they can obey them and get back to work safely, ”Senator Scott said in a telephone interview.

"Cruise lines clearly want their passengers and employees to be safe," he continued. “They worked all year to prepare their ships, but the C.D.C. It has been very difficult to work with them and if they don't want to help we will make sure they do because we are going to pass these laws. "

The state of Florida has sued the federal government to demand that cruise lines begin sailing immediately.

Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, has alleged that the cruise ban had a disproportionate impact on the state's economy. Cruises typically generate billions of dollars from the millions of passengers who pass through Florida's ports each year.

“People will cross one way or another. The question is whether we're going to do it outside of Florida, the world's leading place, or whether they're going to do it outside of the Bahamas or other places. “Governor DeSantis recently said at a press conference in Port Miami.

Ms. Sell said she thinks the C.D.C.'s step-by-step approach of testing security protocols before allowing passengers back on board is the right one.

"Cruises have long had the potential to spread diseases like Covid as people are often in close proximity," she said. "I'm not saying you could never cruise again, just that it just has to be something that you sort out all the requirements on."

Ms. Sell and other health experts say one of the best ways to prevent outbreaks is having everyone on board vaccinated against the coronavirus. Several cruise lines have made vaccinations a requirement for smaller U.S. river cruises and international voyages.

While Governor DeSantis is advocating a restart of cruises, he has also enacted an ordinance banning Florida companies from requiring proof of vaccination from anyone who wishes to use their services. The governor's office said the order prohibits all cruise lines from requiring vaccine certificates to operate in Florida.

The C.D.C. recommended vaccinations in its latest technical guidelines, but no longer required vaccinations to avoid conflict with Florida.

The need for vaccinations appeals to at least some aspiring cruisers. "I'm really looking forward to a cruise, but I don't think I could completely relax and enjoy myself if everyone on board wasn't vaccinated," said Molly Osborne, an avid cruiser based in South Florida. “It would be a great shame if we had to travel to other US ports to get on a ship. Florida is the cruise capital of the world. "

Still, Ms. Osborne said she would be open to travel overseas for a cruise if the C.D.C. does not lift the ban until autumn. "I haven't booked anything yet as I'm waiting to see what happens, but if the only way this year is from the Caribbean, I probably will."

Experts from the C.D.C. White House staff met with cruise line executives and industry leaders last week to discuss the details of the conditional sailing ordinance.

"The aim of the meetings is to review each other's priority themes for the cruise industry to work out details of the implementation of the CSO, including the impact of vaccines and other scientific developments since the CSO was released in October 2020," the agency said in a statement . "This goal is in line with the desire to resume passenger operations in the US by mid-summer expressed by many of the major cruise lines and travelers."

Meanwhile, cruise lines are focused on launching summer sailing overseas in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. MSC Cruises, the fourth largest operator in the industry, announced Thursday that all US cruises would be canceled by June 30th. Instead, at least 10 ships from Europe and the Mediterranean should sail by August. Royal Caribbean, the second largest number of passengers, sails from the Bahamas and Bermuda, among others, and requires vaccinations for all crew members and passengers.

Before the vaccines became widespread, cruise lines in Europe reported some Covid infections on board but said the cases were brought under control using strict health and safety protocols that prevented larger outbreaks.

The note from the C.D.C. Regarding cruise travel remains at Level 4, the highest, and the Agency recommends all individuals avoid travel on cruise lines, including river cruises, worldwide.

"That's because the chance of getting Covid-19 on cruise ships is high, as the virus appears to spread more easily between people in confined spaces on board ships," the warning said.

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