(3:30 a.m. EDT) -- Cruising could restart from the U.S. as soon as mid-July, the CDC announced via a letter sent to the cruise industry Wednesday night.
It is the second time in as many weeks the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has indicated a mid-summer restart, but this is the first time a timeline for any new guidance has been provided.
Exactly when the restart will happen will depend on the cruise lines' ability to get ships ready for service and their compliance with the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.
"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," Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC's COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force for COVID-19, wrote in the letter. "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 CDC said it has been meeting twice weekly since April 12 with cruise line representatives to discuss the CSO and exchange information. This comes after additional guidance was released at the start of April,which led to a furious backlash from the lines and a round of talks to try to agree a timeline for the resumption. In its letter this week, the CDC reiterated mid-July was a possibility and released five clarifications for the CSO, specifically around the Phase 2 technical instructions issued April 2:
- 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.
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- 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 orignially 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.
The CDC and the cruise industry have been at stalemate about the resumption of sailing for over a year, with the CDC coming under increasing pressure to allow for the safe resumption of cruising.
Cruise Critic has reached out to cruise lines and the Cruise Line Industry Association for comments and will update this piece accordingly.