Norwegian Cruise Line announced it has relaxed its Covid-19 protocols beginning in March, perhaps signaling a change for the industry.
On Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line updated its Sail Safe Health and Safety Program for cruises sailing March 1, 2022 and beyond. In it, it changed its mask and vaccine requirements by reducing how strict they are.
Like Royal Caribbean, NCL had tightened its protocols due to the Omicron variant.
Here's a look at the major changes NCL announced.
Norwegian announced for cruises sailing on or after March 1st will be no longer required to wear face masks onboard.
NCL continues to recommend face mask use, but will not require it indoors.
Sailings through February 28 still require all guests to wear masks onboard while indoors, except when actively eating or drinking. This matches Royal Caribbean's current stricter protocols.
It's important to note that NCL did not require masks while indoors before Omicron because they required all of their passengers to be fully vaccinated. The CDC had a policy if 95% or more guests are vaccinated, there were different mask rules for those ships.
Another change is NCL will now allow children under 5 years old to sail if they are unvaccinated, beginning on March 5.
Prior to this change, all passengers had to be fully vaccinated, including children ineligible to be vaccinated.
On NCL's site, it said the change is part of the evolution of the protocols, "As we continue to heed guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prioritize maintaining health and safety, our Sail Safe Program, which requires all guests, ages five and over, to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before departure and show proof of vaccination at the terminal in order to board the vessel, has evolved to allow children under five to sail while unvaccinated."
In addition, NCL will require its passengers to test once at home before the cruise begins in an effort to speed up the check-in process.
Previously, NCL required passengers to be tested at home and then again at the terminal.
Tests taken at home need to be completed within two days of embarkation when sailing from U.S. ports and three days when outside the U.S.
Will Royal Caribbean do the same?
Is NCL's change a harbinger of what's to come for Royal Caribbean?
Royal Caribbean still has its stricter Omicron protocols in place through at least February 14. If those protocols were to lapse, then Royal Caribbean's protocols would fall back to their pre-Omicron protocols that mirror NCL's new policy.
There's good reason to believe protocols are more likely to become less restrictive given the lower rate of Covid-19 cases in society, and on cruise ships.
Last week, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty said cases on cruise ships were substantially down from last month, "in the last several weeks, cases on board our ships have been declining rapidly and we now have returned to exceptionally low pre-Omicron levels."
"In fact, over the last seven days, we have averaged only a handful of positive guest cases per cruise."
"With the declining cases, operational challenges are also abating. So, while the variant is not done, it appears that the worst is behind us."
Later in the call, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said the cruise line would re-evaluate its protocols, "I think what we'll see is as we get into that environment, we'll start, again, working with the CDC. We'll start removing many of the protocols that exist today, and it will become easier and simpler for our customers."