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Cruise travel could resume in July as new CDC guidelines allow ships to sail if 95% of passengers are vaccinated

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/29/2021 ndailey@businessinsider.com (Natasha Dailey)
a large ship in a body of water: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images © Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images
  • Cruising may return in mid-July if ships follow updated CDC guidelines, USA TODAY reported.
  • One of the guidelines said 98% of crew and 95% of passengers must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Going on a cruise will never be "zero risk" but risks can be mitigated, the CDC said.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Cruise ships may be able to set sail in US waters this summer, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidelines for the industry.

The US cruise industry, which has been on hold for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, could restart passenger voyages by mid-July, as long as cruise lines comply with updated COVID-19 regulations. USA TODAY was first to report the story.

The guidelines, updated from the initial framework published earlier this month, say cruise lines can avoid trial voyages if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The previous guidance from the CDC, released earlier this month, said cruise ships must run trial voyages with volunteers to test out the safety protocols. Applications for the simulated trips would take 60 days to review, but in the updated guidance, the agency said it would respond to applications within five days instead.

The CDC also said it will update testing and quarantine requirements for those fully vaccinated, meaning passengers could take a rapid antigen test upon arrival instead of a COVID-19 lab test ahead of the trip, for example.


Video: CDC announces order to conditionally allow cruise lines to resume sailing (CNBC)

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In a statement to Insider, the CDC said it has met with cruise-line representatives twice a week to discuss "the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety."

USA TODAY reported that the head of the CDC's maritime unit said cruising will never be a "zero-risk activity," but the guidelines should mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Read more: COVID-19 has created a once-in-a-lifetime crisis for Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but after surviving hijackings and shipwrecks, the industry looks unsinkable

A spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association said the industry trade group is still reviewing the new guidelines and their implications, but overall, the group is "encouraged" by the news.

"We are optimistic that these clarifications show positive progression - and, importantly, a demonstrated commitment to constructive dialogue, which is key to restarting cruising as we have seen with other governments and health authorities around the world," the spokesperson told Insider.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year, the cruise-ship industry was thrown into disarray. The CDC issued a no-sailing order after thousands of passengers aboard cruise ships were stranded or infected with the virus. Later on in the year, the agency issued a conditional sailing order.

Many cruise lines have since developed protocols to help them get back to sailing safely. The protocols, such as a vaccine mandate, COVID-19 testing, and face-mask use, could make cruise travel safer than say a trip abroad, Scott Gottlieb, the former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said earlier this month.

A cruise-ship vaccine mandate has been controversial, though, after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning businesses from requiring vaccines. Whether that order applies to cruise lines is still to be determined. The governor has previously said he would sue the CDC to bring cruising back.

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