For cruising, this may be said to be the day the pandemic was officially ‘over’.
On Wednesday, the CDC officially confirmed its Conditional Sail Order (CSO) will transition on 15JAN to a new and purely voluntary set of guidelines for COVID health and safety for ships sailing in U.S. waters.
The CSO was set to expire 15JAN, and in advance of that date, the CDC confirmed to media that the order would not be extended.
The CSO started out in 2020 as a "No Sail Order" - a ban on any cruises operating in American waters at all, and was transitioned to the CSO which re-opened cruising in phases under strict measures and verification for each and every ship before it was permitted to sail again.
The CDC says more technical instructions will be provided for this new, voluntary phase, and major cruise lines, according to Cruise Week, are expected to participate in the program. They have until 21JAN to formally advise the CDC of their participation.
It’s a banner day for the cruise industry. Some observers had feared the CSO would be extended, given the surge in cases aboard cruise ships - as throughout the U.S. and Canada - due to the highly-contagious Omicron variant, that had the CDC issue an advisory earlier this month, telling Americans to avoid cruising.
The Cruise Industry “Stepped Up”
However, the industry collectively exhaled this week, when the CDC signalled its intentions, with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky telling a U.S. Senate hearing on 11JAN, “I think the Conditional Sail Order and the fact the industry has stepped up and is now interested in exceeding the compliance with the Sail Order without the order necessarily being in place is a real testimonial to how well that has worked.”
She noted that the CDC had worked collaboratively with the cruise industry.
That feeling was reciprocal, with CLIA responding positively to the news late Wednesday that the CSO would expire on schedule.
"The transition of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to a voluntary program effective January 15 recognizes the cruise industry’s unwavering commitment to providing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry," said a statement from the organization published in Cruise Week.
CLIA has been on a public relations blitz - trying to isolate cruising from being unfairly targeted as a spreader of COVID.
Its messages to media and social media have given the travel trade ammunition to respond to accusations with facts that there’s close to 100 per cent vaccination on board almost all major cruise line ships, as well as testing, both at levels that far exceed environments people encounter at home during everyday life, like visits to the supermarket or attendance at concerts or sports events.
Wednesday’s confirmation of the expiry of the CSO comes ahead of an online conversation Thursday morning between Frank Del Rio, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Chairman of the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings SailSAFE Global Health and Wellness Council, and COVID-19 expert. Dr. Gottlieb, will be providing an update on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, along with the current and future expected impact of the Omicron variant, especially on cruising as the industry continues to navigate through COVID outbreaks as it sails ahead, now without the threat of the CSO hanging over it.