Cruise lines may begin sailing again from U.S. ports under rules released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency is allowing a "No Sail" order to expire at midnight Saturday.
In its place, the agency issued a 40-page document, signed by CDC Director Robert Redfield, a "Framework for Conditional Sailing." It requires cruise lines to build labs to test all crew members and passengers for the coronavirus. After taking other steps to safeguard passengers and crew, the CDC will then give cruise lines permission to conduct "simulated voyages" to show they can minimize the risk of COVID-19.
Only passengers 18 or older, with medical authorization showing they have no preexisting medical conditions that place them at risk, will be allowed to embark. Ship crews will have to show they can safely embark and disembark passengers, conduct safe excursions and shipboard activities, and isolate passengers and crew who test positive. Once individual ships are certified, the CDC said it will then allow a "phased return" of voyages.
The CDC suspended cruises from U.S. ports in March after coronavirus outbreaks on a number of ships with at least 41 deaths. In recent months, the industry, backed by elected officials in Washington, D.C., and Florida, lobbied for the "No Sail" order to be lifted.
Under these guidelines, it's not clear when cruises will resume. The largest cruise line, Carnival, has sailings from Florida ports scheduled in December.
In Europe, where cruise lines have resumed limited operations, the surge in coronavirus cases there has led several to cancel departures and trim schedules. In Australia, Princess Cruises has canceled all sailings until June because of uncertainty about restrictions on international travel.
After months of waiting for the "No Sail" order to be lifted, the response from the cruise industry was less than effusive. The industry convened its own "Healthy Sail Panel" of medical experts who developed a lengthy set of guidelines for resuming cruises.
In a statement, Kelly Craighead, CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, said companies look forward to reviewing the new CDC order "in detail." He said the industry is focused on protecting the public health, and "with enhanced measures in place, and with the continued guidance of leading experts in health and science as well as the CDC, we are confident that a resumption of cruising in the U.S. is possible to support the economic recovery."