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The battle to resume cruising in US heats up

The battle to resume cruising in US heats up

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Carnival Cruise Line's new ship Mardi Gras was set to make its fall debut at Port Canaveral.

Carnival Cruise Line's new ship Mardi Gras was set to make its fall debut at Port Canaveral. (Carnival Cruise Line/TNS)

As the cruise industry and its fans press for a restart of cruising in the U.S., two Democratic lawmakers are urging the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to stick to its guns on the order that halted cruises.

U.S. Rep Doris Matsui of California and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urging her to strictly enforce the guidelines under the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and immediately halt cruises if outbreaks occur on board.

“Given the potential for a large, virus-spreading event on a cruise ship, the CDC appropriately issued its No-Sail Order to suspend cruise ship operations,” the lawmakers wrote in the April 15 letter. “Prematurely lifting restrictions on cruising – with thousands of people in close proximity and conditions ripe for spread of infections – threatens a serious setback in this progress.”

Matsui and Blumenthal are longtime advocates of more regulation and reporting of safety issues on cruise ships.

Also on April 15, Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, sent another letter to the CDC, asking for a response to his April 5 letter seeking approval for a return to cruising in the U.S. by July 4.

“Over the past year, we have worked tirelessly and invested heavily to create a path to resume cruise operations, including enlisting the guidance of the nation’s top scientific and public health experts. We are confident that with our science-backed SailSAFE program, we will offer a uniquely safe and healthy vacation experience which protects our guests, crew and communities we visit,” Del Rio wrote in his follow-up letter. “We strongly believe our proposal submitted to the CDC 10 days ago, which includes mandatory vaccinations for all guests and crew, offers a safe and immediate solution to resume cruising and eliminates the need for the obsolete CSO, which in its current form is impossible to operationalize and more importantly ignores the advancement of vaccines."

The moves come as the CDC updated its guidance for cruising, still calling it a “very high” risk and urging people avoid ocean and river cruise ships worldwide.

“That’s because the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high, since the virus appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” the CDC update said. “It is especially important that people with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises.”

The guidance urges COVID-19 testing one to three days before the trip and three to five days after, even for those who are fully vaccinated. Those who are unvaccinated should also quarantine for seven days after the cruise, even if they test negative, the CDC recommended.

The CDC issued Phase 2 of the Conditional Sailing Order on April 2, which frustrated the industry with “unduly burdensome, largely unworkable” requirements,” according to a statement from the Cruise Lines International Association. Cruising shut down in March 2020. The CDC issued the first phase of the CSO on Oct. 30, the second phase April 2, with no clear timeline or path to resume cruising, the industry asserts.

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