With less than week left in the life of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) policy that regulates how cruise ships can operate from the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal agency has temporarily extended it for an additional two and a half months.
The CDC has temporarily extended the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) until January 15, 2022, with minor modifications.
The CSO is the CDC's phased approach to allowing cruise ships to resume operations from the United States. There are phases each vessel must go through before it can be approved to sail again with passengers from U.S. waters.
Many cruise ships have been able to resume operations from the United States since summer 2021, including many from Royal Caribbean.
It is being called a "temporary extension", and will commence once the current CSO expires on November 1, 2021.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO on October 25, 2021.
The Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO shall remain in effect until the earliest of
- The expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency;
- The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations; or
- January 15, 2022 at 12:01 am EDT.
Once the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO expires in January, the CDC said it intends for the the program to shift to a voluntary basis, where cruise lines and other stakeholders will work together without a federal mandate to do so to ensure proper protocols are followed.
The original CSO was issued on October 30, 2020 as a response to Covid-19 and the perceived threat of it spreading on cruise ships.
According to the CDC, the rationale for extending it has to do with the threat the virus still poses today, "considering the continued spread of the Delta variant, emergence of other COVID-19 variants of concern, breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated, and possible additional surges of cases and deaths, CDC has determined a temporary extension of the CSO is necessary for foreign-flagged cruise ships operating on international itineraries."
The CDC did concede in its document it intends to let the CSO expire once January 15 passes, "After the expiration of this temporary extension, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with interested cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships."
The extension has few changes to what the CSO had in it originally, although the CDC did take away a few restrictions and requirements including:
- Removed language referring to cruise ship operator protocols as “unproven and untested”
- Removed requirement to include any CDC travel advisory, warning, or recommendation relating to cruise travel in marketing material
- Removed requirement to limit voyage to 7 days
- Removed requirement for monitored observation period of passengers prior to embarking
- Modified to state that voyage may be ended and further action taken if a ship meets “red ship criteria” under Technical Instructions for Crew
- Removed previous requirement that cruise ship operator must immediately end voyage, cancel future voyages, and return to port if COVID-19 identified onboard.
In addition, the CSO adds that its instructions only apply on a voluntary basis for ships arriving in, located within, or departing from a port in Florida, due to the Preliminary Injunction Order, entered by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on June 18, 2021.
Last week, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley hinted at the CSO becoming more guidance than regulation, "One of those next steps could be that the Conditional Sailing Order would just expire, and we would continue as we are voluntarily working with the CDC and operating with various protocols and guidelines that have been recommended."
Mr. Bayley believes the success cruise lines have had in getting back to service has been a result of the work with the CDC, "We've got 15 ships operating and the protocols are really working."
"Everything is operating extremely well, and that really was only possible through a lot of collaboration with the CDC and working with them and other health authorities around the world."