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CDC lifts order banning cruising but don't expect ships to begin sailing immediately

By Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

A more than seven-month-long ban on cruising in U.S. waters will end this weekend, paving the way for a return to sailing during the pandemic, but don't expect an immediate restart in San Diego or anywhere else, given new requirements imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC announced Friday it would be lifting its no-sail order, due to expire Saturday, and in its place will be a phased plan for resuming cruising that it is calling a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. Among other things, it will initially require mock voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test cruise lines' ability to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The latest news comes even as the CDC continues to warn about the increased potential for spreading the novel coronavirus on board cruise ships. Its new plan for allowing for a return to sailing, though, should help ease concerns about promoting increased infection, the CDC says.

"This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing. It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live," said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. "CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers."

In San Diego, most sailings have been postponed through November. Holland America, which home ports here during the fall-to-spring cruise season, has so far canceled roughly half its originally planned 47 cruises, and its first sailing still on the books is not until Dec. 19. Carnival, which has canceled 16 of its 34 cruise calls out of San Diego, isn't showing any voyages until January, and Disney Cruise Line, which has cut 12 of its 27 scheduled calls, isn't back on the San Diego schedule until March.

 

"It is too soon to say how soon sailing could resume in San Diego," said the Port of San Diego's Adam Deaton. "Our next steps will be to coordinate with Holland America and Carnival on their plans, as they are the first few cruises on our schedule. Currently, our first scheduled cruise is Dec. 19 with Holland America's Koningsdam. If any cruise lines request to conduct test sailings in San Diego, we will coordinate with all relevant federal, state and local agencies."

To date, there has been a net loss of 60 cruise calls in San Diego because of the pandemic, according to Deaton. With an expected reduction in passenger capacity once cruises resume, the Port of San Diego is expecting 264,000 fewer passengers coming through San Diego, a decline of nearly 60 percent.

The CDC's no-sail order originally went into effect in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic was widening and cruise ships were having to return to port, some with many sickened passengers. The was later extended three more times, the most recent extension imposed Sept. 30.

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