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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not the cruise lines themselves, is at fault for sustained sailing suspensions.
At least that is the opinion of Harry Curtis, an analyst for Instinet, a stock trading system.
“This issue is not that the industry has been passive in developing health protocols,” Curtis is quoted as saying. “In our view, the hurdle lies with CDC’s unwillingness to discuss, debate and mutually implement the highest standards of passenger and crew health care.”
This is occurring while resorts, casinos and other forms of mass transportation — particularly flights with increasing passenger count and reinstated middle seat sales — are increasingly permitted.
Scott Pauley, press officer for CDC, explains that the maritime environment is unique.
“The population density on cruise ships tends to be higher than most urban settings, and even when populations are reduced, we still observe ongoing spread of COVID-19 illness due to the congregated setting and greater chance of closer physical contact,” Pauley said. “Sailings without guest passengers and with a markedly reduced crew size since April have continued to prove how difficult it is to control and eradicate COVID-19 infections and outbreaks in the maritime environment.”
Sailings without guest passengers and with a markedly reduced crew size since April have continued to prove how difficult it is to control and eradicate COVID-19 infections and outbreaks in the maritime environment.
Despite surveys suggesting that cruise demographics are changing as younger travelers opt to sail, CDC is also concerned about how vulnerable older cruisers could be to the virus.
“Persons over 65 with underlying health conditions (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular illness, malignancy, liver disease, kidney disease, obesity, etc.) are at much greater risk of more severe illness with possible hospitalization and, at times, a need for respiratory support (some form of oxygen) in an ICU setting,” he said. “The guest profile on typical cruise ship voyages matches those at greatest risk for severe illness, which may require hospitalization and need for respiratory support.”
As it currently stands, CDC’s No Sail Order technically expires on July 24. However, the day after an expected meeting between the government organization and cruise companies, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced continuing a suspension of operations until Sept. 15.
Although this industry update was made voluntarily, one can suspect timely pressure. CDC’s silence — save for a color coding system to allow commercial crew repatriation and concurring with said extended passenger suspension — suggests it is not receptive to health and safety plans being presented by cruise lines for guests to return.
Travel agents agree.
“I do blame CDC if the cruise lines have submitted their protocols and complied with what they were asking for,” said Adam Martindale, a Cruise Planners advisor at Martindale Travel and Tours. “If the cruise lines have submitted all the required paperwork by the requested dates, then I don’t understand what’s taking CDC so long in order to get at least one cruise ship for each cruise line started up again — even if they were only to go to the private islands and islands that are opened up to tourism, and be very controlled to start the cruise industry again. Cruising is vitally important to the travel industry and economy in many states and cities.”
Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel, points to the American Society of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) frustration with CDC.
“I stick 100% with ASTA,” he said. “CDC needs to let us know what it looks like to travel and to set the expectations and guidelines so that millions of people out of work can at least understand what needs to happen to get back to work.”
CDC needs to let us know what it looks like to travel and to set the expectations and guidelines so that millions of people out of work can at least understand what needs to happen to get back to work.
With the exception of expressing disappointment in recent airline decisions, the only public guidance that CDC has provided the travel industry as of late is the singling out of the cruise industry with a blanket denial to restart.
“CDC has continued, and continues, to have regular conversations and emails with the cruise line industry and cruise ship operators, often on a daily basis, as we work to review response plans submitted by the cruise lines to CDC under the No Sail Order,” Pauley said. “CDC will continue to evaluate and update our recommendations as the situation evolves.”
Meanwhile, thousands have already taken to an online petition to push the government agency to resume cruising. Whether or not it will move the dial toward actual change is to be seen.
Now it is up to CDC and CLIA to announce a plan, hopefully sooner than later. To that end, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. today announced a joint collaboration to “develop enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic” with CDC contributors, in part, at the helm. Carnival Corporation and World Travel & Tourism Council have scheduled their own Global Science Summit this month, as well.