CDC approves test sail for Royal Caribbean cruise line, the first as COVID-19 cases drop
MIAMI - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given the green light for Royal Caribbean to conduct a test sail as the cruise industry looks to rebound from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
"CDC has provisionally approved one cruise ship from Royal Caribbean to begin simulated voyages in June, following a request to conduct a simulated voyage and the submission of an accurate and complete port agreement," the agency said in a statement to FOX Television Stations Wednesday.
The CDC will allow the company to operate its "Freedom of the Seas" ship for a test cruise from June 20 to June 22 with volunteer passengers. The ship will sail from PortMiami in Florida, according to the Miami Herald.
"After 15 months of hard work and collaboration, today’s approval of our simulated cruises is the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S.," the company said in a statement to FOX Television Stations. "We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer."
"To all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news! Boom! Onwards and upwards team!," CEO Michael Bayley wrote on Facebook.
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Per the agreement, the company must follow CDC guidelines when it comes to testing and quarantine of the crew and passengers. The company must also document any challenges in the health and safety protocols and how they were addressed.
Meanwhile, the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order states vaccines are not mandatory for test sailings. However, according to FOX Business, the company expects all passengers to be vaccinated.
In April, the CDC released new guidance on how cruise companies could safely resume sailings. The health agency said voyages could start up again by mid-summer if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated. Fully vaccinated travelers onboard cruise ships won’t have to wear masks in outdoor settings.
Cruise operators can also allow fully vaccinated travelers to tour ports on their own and can "engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops, if they wear a mask while indoors."
"CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer," the agency said in Wednesday’s statement.
The cruise industry has been essentially closed for business since mid-March 2020, when it became clear that the deadly and contagious virus had already been sweeping through the U.S. unabated for weeks. The cruise association estimates that the suspension of cruises knocked out more than $25 billion in economic activity in the U.S. and 164,000 American jobs.
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Shares in the major cruise line companies started to decline in February 2020 as the virus spread and hit bottom in mid-March when the U.S. economy effectively shut down. Companies have suffered billions in losses this year, wiping out more than 70% of their value.
According to Cruise Lines International Association, the 2020 suspension of cruise operations around the world led to a loss of more than $77 billion in global economic activity, more than 518,000 jobs and more than $23 billion in wages.
But there are efforts to put the sails back into the cruise industry.
On Monday, President Joe Biden signed into law legislation that opens a door for resumed cruise ship travel to Alaska. The measure pushed by members of Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation will allow large cruise ships to sail directly from Washington state to Alaska without stopping in Canada.
The CLIA also reported 74% of cruisers around the world hope to set sail at least once in the next few years. Two out three cruisers are willing to take a cruise within a year, according to its report.
The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.