Cruises likely to be canceled into July as CDC issues extended 'no-sail' order
It looks like cruising will be on hold well into the summer -- at least in North America.
Citing the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Thursday issued an extended "no-sail" order for cruise ships operating out of U.S. ports that could remain in effect into July.
The CDC said the order would stay in place for at least 100 days unless the U.S. government determines the coronavirus outbreak is no longer a public health emergency. The order also can be rescinded or modified in advance of 100 days by the CDC director.
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Assuming the order is not rescinded, its 100-day timetable will mean a continued shutdown to cruising involving U.S. ports through at least the middle of July.
The order also requires cruise lines to develop a plan within the next seven days to "prevent, mitigate and respond to" the spread of the new coronavirus on cruise ships.
“The measures we are taking today to stop the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect Americans," CDC director Robert Redfield said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
The order is likely to result in another wave of cruise cancellations. Most cruise lines have only canceled sailings into May. A few lines, such as Viking, have canceled voyages through June.
Related: Here's why you shouldn't take a voucher if your cruise is canceled
The "no-sail" order extends an initial, 30-day prohibition on cruising out of U.S. ports that the CDC issued on March 14. The initial order came as some lines already were shutting down operations due to the coronavirus outbreak. Viking announced a suspension to operations on March 11; Princess Cruises followed on March 12 and most other lines followed a day later.
A spokesperson for the world's biggest cruise company, Carnival Corp., did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a short statement sent to The Points Guy, the world's second biggest cruise company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, said it was studying the order.
"We are aware of the CDC order and are studying how best to respond to its provisions," the Royal Caribbean Cruises statement said. "Our global sailings are currently suspended through May 11."
Together, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises operate more than a dozen of the world's best-known cruise brands. They account for more than half of all cruises taken worldwide.
The CDC's new order, which was nine pages long, hinted at U.S. government frustration with cruise lines.
In a section titled "critical need for further cooperation and response planning," the agency suggested an initial response plan drafted by the cruise industry for the CDC in March and a new response plan submitted on April 3 had significant shortcomings.
The new response plan that the CDC has ordered the cruise industry to produce in the next seven days "must go further to reduce industry reliance on government and shoreside hospital resources," the CDC said.
The CDC said the new plan must have further details of how the industry will provide for the acute care needs of critically ill passengers and crew on ships. It also must address laboratory sampling and testing of sick people on ships, onboard mitigation and prevention strategies, disinfection protocols, personal protective equipment, repatriation of foreign nationals and onshore transportation, including through contract medevac helicopters.
The agency also said the industry needs to spell out how it proposes "to acquire, staff and operationalize this plan with minimal burden on federal, state or local government entities or the healthcare system."
The main trade group for the cruise industry, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), defended the industry's proposals to date in a statement sent to The Points Guy.
"Our industry has taken responsibility for protecting public health on board cruise ships for more than 50 years, working under the guidance and direction of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and others," the statement said. "To this end, the industry has proactively submitted proposals that are far reaching in prevention, detection, and care—and, importantly, would be led and funded by the industry."
In its statement, CLIA also expressed concern over "the unintended consequences of the order in its singling out an industry that has been proactive in its escalation of health and sanitation protocols, including the aforementioned proposals, as well as transparent in its reporting despite numerous challenges beyond the industry’s control."
CLIA said a shutdown of the cruise industry lasting for a year could cause the loss of 343,000 jobs.
In issuing the order, the CDC referenced some out-of-service cruise vessels around U.S. waters that are experiencing coronavirus outbreaks, which it called a public health concern. It also suggested the outbreaks had become a burden on the U.S. healthcare system.
Related: Big cruise companies can survive shutdown lasting many months, analyst says
The agency said it was aware of 20 out-of-service cruise ships at U.S. ports or anchorages with known or suspected cases of COVID-19 among the crew who remain on board. That's out of approximately 100 out-of-service cruise vessels in U.S. waters.
The agency said nearly 80,000 crew remain on board the 100 vessels.
"There are several public health concerns when crew members become ill," the CDC said. "As we have seen with the passenger illness response on cruise ships, safely evacuating, triaging and repatriating cruise ship crew has involved complex logistics, incurs financial costs at all levels of government and diverts resources away from larger efforts to suppress or mitigate COVID-19."
The transfer of sick cruise ship crew to U.S. medical facilities "also places healthcare workers at substantial increased risk," the agency said.
The U.S. Coast Guard in recent days has been involved in the medical evacuation of crew from several cruise ships in U.S. waters, and sick crew have been brought to U.S. hospitals.
"The intensive care requirements for infected crew in need of life-critical care greatly stresses an already overburdened healthcare system facing shortages of masks, test kits, beds and ventilators needed to respond to COVID-19," the CDC added.
The CDC noted that some of the crew on cruise ships in U.S. waters are not critical to maintain the seaworthiness or basic safe operation of the vessels.
The new "no-sail" order does not apply to cruise vessels designed to carry fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew combined). That means a handful of lines that specialize in sailings on very small ships such as Alaska cruise specialist UnCruise Adventures could resume sailings sooner than July.
UnCruise Adventures vessels hold just 22 to 86 passengers.
Additional resources for traveling during the coronavirus outbreak:
- How to cancel or postpone a cruise due to coronavirus
- How coronavirus is impacting airline award availability
- How coronavirus has left the travel industry reeling
- Airlines scale back inflight offerings due to coronavirus
- How to ward off coronavirus in your hotel room
- Guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak