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CDC Says You Can Set Sail But You Cannot Depart

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order to allow cruises to take place from 1 November onwards. The no-sail order had been in place for 7 months after being implemented on 14 March.

However, this doesn’t mean that any ships can actually set sail. At least, not for the time being. Indeed, as reported by CNN, the major cruise companies have cancelled all cruises until at least 2021. So, whilst you can technically now set sail, there are still no U.S. cruise ships which are able to take you anywhere.

The reason is that the CDC issued a conditional sail order, allowing for a “phased resumption” of cruise-ship passenger operations.

Ships can only be given permission to leave port, with passengers, if they have a new health certificate issued by the CDC called a Covid-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate that assures compliance with CDC standards. Cruise ships will also be asked to perform a number of crew-only sailings before they receive the certificate.

The CDC has been highly critical of the cruise industry for allowing infection rates of Covid-19 to rapidly spread amongst travelers aboard ships since the pandemic started. The New York Times reported in July that the CDC claimed it had spent 38,000 hours managing the outbreaks on ships since March.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC was wary of resuming cruises, worried that they would become viral hotspots, as they were at the beginning of the pandemic. One of the biggest was Carnival’s Diamond Princess, which suffered an outbreak that infected 712 people and killed 9 after mooring in Yokohama harbor in Japan.

The CDC had argued that the ban should be continued until at least February 2021 but the White House was reported by Axios to have blocked the deal prior to the election, worried that President Trump needed to win Florida (which he did in the election, 4 November)–the cruise industry has a big presence in the Sunshine state. (White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern denied that the decision had been influenced by political decisions).

The CDC statement said that “outbreaks on cruise ships overseas provide current evidence that cruise ship travel facilitates and amplifies transmission of Covid-19”.

It added that even with ships sailing at reduced passenger capacities, cruises “would likely spread the disease into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume in the United States without public health oversight”.

Forbes reported that shares of the 3 major cruise ship companies climbed in response to the news; Carnival, the world’s largest, by 7%, and Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, its two largest competitors, rose 6% and 5% respectively. However, all three operators are running at huge losses since the beginning of 2020–Carnival’s is down 75%.

Empty cruise ships still need to be maintained and much like planes, they burn through a lot of money when empty. Carnival’s account statements show that the company needs an average of $770 million each month to keep its ships afloat. In the third quarter of 2019, Carnival reported $6.5 billion–this figure had reduced by 99% for 2020, to just $31 million in the same period.

Many empty ships are currently being parked outside of harbours around the world, such as those in the English Channel.

The added complication to the resumption of cruises is that with spiralling Covid-19 infection rates, required health precautions are likely to change on a weekly basis.

What’s more, a cruise ship needs confidant passengers aboard, who pay a lot for the privilege, who need to be keen on staying with the same people for a few days at the very minimum.

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