Guidelines for cruise lines outlined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became voluntary on Saturday 15 January.
It follows the expiration of the Temporary Extension and Modification of Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. Under the new rules, cruise lines will be able to decide whether to conform with CDC Covid guidance or not.
In a statement, the CDC said: "Cruise ships operating in US waters choosing to participate in the programme on a voluntary basis agree to follow all recommendations and guidance issued by CDC as part of this programme.”
Non-participating vessels which sail international itineraries and operate within US waters will be classified as ‘grey’ on the CDC’s cruise ship colour status website, indicating that the agency hasn’t reviewed the health and safety protocols of the operators. Cruise ships that opt out and exclusively sail in US waters will not be listed on the website.
The CDC has said that it expects cruise operators to indicate their participation status in the coming week. However, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has already confirmed that all three of its brands – Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises – will opt into the voluntary programme.
Despite the change, the CDC health notice for cruising remains at Level 4
The framework, initially published on 30 October 2020, replaced an earlier No Sail Order issued in March 2020, and required cruise lines to follow CDC protocol regarding Covid-19. It was initially intended to expire on 1 November 2021 but was later extended to run until last weekend.
However despite the change, the CDC travel health notice for cruising currently remains at Level 4 – advising US travellers to avoid cruising entirely regardless of Covid vaccine status. The health notice was raised from Level 3 on 30 December, reflecting what the CDC said were ‘increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant.’
A week after the decision to raise the health notice to Level 4, the Miami-based cruise lines Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line chose to cancel planned voyages throughout the first quarter of 2022. Royal Caribbean said that the move reflected ‘ongoing Covid-related circumstances’ and an ‘abundance of caution.’