With omicron cases soaring, some cruise lines adding COVID-19 vaccine booster requirement

Jan 1, 2022

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P&O Cruises on Monday will become the first cruise line to require passengers to get booster shots against COVID-19 to board a ship as cases of the omicron variant continue to soar across the world.

The United Kingdom-based cruise operator recently notified customers on an unusually long, 35-night sailing to the Caribbean scheduled to begin Monday that they would need to show proof of such a COVID-19 vaccine booster to go ahead with the trip.

Until this week, the line only had required that passengers on sailings to the Caribbean be “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19, meaning two doses of an approved two-dose COVID-19 vaccine such as the Moderna vaccine or a single dose of an approved single-dose vaccine.

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The new booster requirement only applies to the single sailing beginning Monday, which is out of Southampton, U.K. on P&O Cruises’ 3,192-passenger Ventura.

P&O Cruises sister company Cunard Line also plans to implement a booster shot requirement for at least one unusually long upcoming sailing — a 28-night voyage from Southampton to the Caribbean scheduled to begin on Jan. 14.

In a letter sent in recent days to passengers booked on the sailing, Cunard said they would need to show proof of a COVID-19 booster shot in addition to proof of being fully vaccinated at least a week before the trip began. The trip will take place on Cunard’s iconic Queen Mary 2.

Related: Will omicron affect my cruise? Here’s how lines are adjusting

In its letter to customers, Cunard noted “the length and complexity” of the 28-night itinerary and the need to “best protect the health and well-being of our guests, crew and the communities we visit.”

The itinerary involves two lengthy crossings of the Atlantic Ocean, stops at six Caribbean islands and visits to the Atlantic islands of Madeira and Tenerife.

Queen Mary 2 currently is in the midst of another 28-night sailing from Southampton to the Caribbean that has been disrupted by positive cases of COVID-19 on board. The 2,695-passenger ship has missed several port stops and spent extra days docked in Barbados. The ship will skip an upcoming stop in New York as it works its way back to the U.K.

Cunard is offering passengers on that sailing a pro-rated refund for the portion of the trip that has been disrupted. The line says passengers on the Jan. 14 sailing who can’t meet the new booster requirement can transfer to a later sailing or request a full refund.

The cruise industry has been the most aggressive segment of the travel industry in requiring customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Most of the world’s major cruise lines require all or most passengers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — a policy that many lines implemented from the first days they restarted operations in 2021.

All of the world’s major cruise lines paused operations in early 2020 after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic, and most didn’t resume sailings for more than a year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended that all travelers, regardless of vaccine status, avoid cruising for now, citing the surge in omicron cases.

The cruise industry was highly critical of the recommendation.

“The decision by the CDC to (recommend that travelers avoid cruising) is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard—far fewer than on land—and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore,” the main trade group for the industry, the Cruise Lines International Association, said in a statement to TPG.

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Featured image by Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images.

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