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CDC says passengers could be boarding cruise ships in US ports as soon as July

Taylor Dolven, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

In most cases, the protocols touted by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and used by its competitors on cruises in other parts of the world during the pandemic are in line with those outlined by the CDC. Both promote cruising with fewer passengers, eliminating self-serve buffets, and requiring passengers and crew wear masks. But when it comes to testing, the two differ. Norwegian said it will require passengers to provide proof of a negative antigen test before boarding; the CDC said it will require companies to test all passengers and crew using PCR tests on embarkation and debarkation day.

Cruise Lines International Association called the CDC’s rules for port agreements “unduly burdensome, largely unworkable” in a statement Monday. Cruises have long resumed in other parts of the world including Singapore, China and Italy, hosting nearly 400,000 passengers since the pandemic began with minimal COVID-19 cases, according to CLIA.

More cruise lines will choose to scrap plans to cruise from U.S. ports in favor of the Caribbean ports, CLIA warned. On Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced it will operate seven-day Caribbean itineraries from Montego Bay, Jamaica, starting on August 7, 2021 on its Norwegian Joy ship and from La Romana, Dominican Republic, on its Norwegian Gem ship starting Aug. 15, 2021. Royal Caribbean Group and Crystal Cruises already have plans in place to restart cruises from The Bahamas and St. Maarten this summer.

Cetron’s advice to U.S. citizens planning to fly to the Caribbean for a summer cruise: “I would say hold on,” he said. “We’re really getting our best tools in place right now. Getting all Americans vaccinated is a game changer in this pandemic. I know that it’s really hard and I know pandemic fatigue is real; people just want out. We are so close. Give us some time.”

More time is difficult to imagine for Torin Ragin, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1416, which represents nearly 800 workers at PortMiami. Since the pandemic began, working hours on the cruise ship side of the port have plummeted. Hundreds of longshoremen are at risk of losing their medical insurance coverage in January 2022 unless they can work 700 hours by the end of September, an impossible task without the return of cruising.

“It’s the continued uncertainty after uncertainty after uncertainty,” he said. “It’s real. I see the faces; I get the calls; I’m on ground zero of this thing. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep people safe.”

 

After the CDC approves cruise company agreements with ports and local health authorities, companies will practice simulated voyages to make sure the health and safety protocols are working. Requirements for the simulated passenger voyages are under development, a spokesperson for the CDC said, and will be published in the next few weeks.

After the simulated voyages, companies will be approved to operate during the pandemic.

Cetron is confident the agency’s rules will reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and make cruises safer.

“Let’s get these things up and going, let’s beat this virus, and then I think people will really be able to enjoy the things they’ve been missing for the last year,” he said.

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