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Royal Caribbean Cruises is in the hot seat, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating the Caribbean cruise line for an outbreak of the Norovirus. (The CDC has reportedly traced the outbreak to an employee at a food-service company that has catered to Royal Caribbean ships in the past.) The CDC’s investigation began when passengers on the Explorer of the Seas ship returned with gastrointestinal illness symptoms. Picking out the right synonyms is HARD.

The CDC is not being very specific about what “constructive talks” are being held between them and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, but the evidence points in one direction: a cruise ship with an on-board hospital. According to the CDC, this is a vital step in controlling the outbreak of Ebola, which has infected more than 10,000 people and cost thousands of lives in West Africa. The CDC’s concerns are that an outbreak could spread across the ocean to the United States if a passenger contracts Ebola onboard a ship. Unfortunately, the CDC cannot stop a cruise ship from sailing to West Africa, but it could require all ships to stop their journeys in the nearest port if a passenger onboard is suspected or confirmed to have Ebola.

Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean, is in talks with the Caribbean Tourism Organization about re-commissioning ships in the Caribbean in the next few months. He also referred to ongoing discussions between the cruise line and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The debate over whether or not to resume cruises from the US reached a new high when the CDC made some changes for people vaccinated in the US. The CDC said cruises could not be resumed.

However, new guidelines for the cruise industry are still lacking. Something that has caused some cruise lines to cancel all travel to the United States until, in some cases, the fall of 2021.

Cruise industry needs CDC, says CEO

The cruise industry needs the CDC more than most realize. Since most of the world’s cruises originate in the United States, the CDC plays an important role in this sector. The CDC is not only responsible for most of the health policies implemented on board.

The agency is also responsible for the percentage of USPH that vessels must meet. With this in mind, Michael Bayley believes that it is necessary to continue and maintain a good relationship. Not just for the current pandemic:

We have had constructive discussions with the CDC in the United States, which is a very important health authority for us, because the major demand for our activities comes from US ports. This constructive dialogue gives us great hope for the future.

Michael Bayley believes that the past few months have been a period of intense learning for everyone in the cruise industry. Of those involved with the ships, as well as the CDC. However, the current situation, with the increasing spread of vaccines, makes everyone optimistic.

I think we should just try to accelerate all the good that comes from vaccines. And I also know that there are a lot of opinions about vaccines, but I think it’s fair to say that they are really changing the future for us. And I hope it will be in a very positive way.

Organisation for Caribbean Tourism Zoom Call with Michael Bayley

Science changes opinion of CDC

The CDC has focused on science, sometimes to the extreme, according to some. And that seems to be changing the mindset of the Atlanta, Georgia-based agency.

Also read : CDC changes guidelines for outdoor masks for fully vaccinated, what about cruisers?

The agency seems to be changing the rules and regulations it demands one by one. According to Michael Bayley, the vaccine community provides a basis for the CDC to change the regulations:

We’re finding that they’re cautiously relaxing a lot of rules and regulations because they’re getting the science and the data that shows that if you’re a vaccinated community, there’s very little transmission. It’s a whole different environment.

Does this mean Royal Caribbean will require vaccinations for all passengers? That seems more than likely at this point. The cruise line has pledged to ensure that the crew is 100% vaccinated, and assumes that the majority of guests will also be vaccinated, although the cruise line plans to wait for CDC guidance on this. Children and young adults can navigate using a PCR test:

In the coming months, many vaccines will become available worldwide. Crew members will be vaccinated against COVID. We know from most of our guests that they will be. Since January, over 80% of all our bookings for the 2021 and 2022 cruises have come from guests who have been vaccinated. I think in the coming months we will move to an environment where the target group is not fully, but largely vaccinated.

So we think we’re headed in that direction. So people can be assured that when a cruise ship comes in, the crew members are vaccinated, there will be testing protocols for the crew, whether they’re vaccinated or not, and there will be protocols for the guests, and that will generally be led by the CDC, because we operate under that model.

Photo: bear_productions / Shutterstock.com

Transfer of vessels to another location does not constitute circumvention of CSO

Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Europe, UK and Asia have been accused of circumventing the CDC’s conditional sailing order (CSO). According to Michael Bayley, this is not the case. Most people ignore the fact that 40% of business is typically done outside the United States.

We are not trying to circumvent the CDC’s ban. We have a total of 25 ships that sail around the world all year round. We typically have 14 or 15 of these vessels operating year-round in the Caribbean. In the winter months we add ships in the Caribbean, but usually there are about 10 ships sailing outside of the US and the Caribbean because we are an international cruise line.

It’s worth a read: Is time running out for American cruises to resume this summer?

The CEO warns that although Caribbean cruises are currently making a comeback, it will take time for things to return to the way they were.

Many Caribbean countries are still in the early stages of vaccination, and until vaccination rates are higher, cruise passengers will be in a bubble for some time. Over time the situation will become more normal, but for now there will always be requirements:

We have to understand that there will be no switch that will suddenly say, boom, everything is back. It’s not going to happen. It will take months. With the end of the pandemic, there will be stricter protocols, there will be testing requirements. Mass requirements are formulated. Vaccinations will be required. To me, post-pandemic means that when we are done with this, we hope that everything will return to normal.

While Norwegian Cruise Line appears to have taken a punt on its cruises in the United States, Royal Caribbean remains a bit more optimistic, at least for the time being. In fact, the vaccination requirements that many cruise lines are now implementing seem to be the way forward for the cruise industry, which Michael Bayley says the CDC is now seeing.

While 2021 is already a lost year for most tourist destinations, 2022 could be the biggest year yet for the travel, cruise and tourism industry. As for its US operations, Royal Caribbean has provisionally suspended sailings until June 2021.

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