The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevent’s conditional sailing order for cruise ships is set to switch to a voluntary program later this month, even as cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 are on the rise, according to multiple media reports.
Cruise ships sailing from the United States have been under a conditional sailing order since the lifting of the CDC’s original “No Sail Order,” first implemented in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The “No Sail Order” was later extended four times prior to the CDC issuing a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, issued on October 30, 2020, paved the way for cruise ships to return to passenger operations in Spring 2020 with strict health and safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
The current conditional order is set to expire January 15, 2022, at which point it is set to transition to a voluntary program. A spokesperson for the CDC now tells the the cruise industry website Cruise Critic that there will be no extension to the conditional sailing order upon its pending expiration.
“After the expiration of the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO on January 15, 2022, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships,” a CDC spokesperson told Cruise Critic.
The transition of the program, from mandatory to voluntary, comes as the omicron variant spreads rapidly in the United States. Just last month, the CDC raised its COVID-19 travel health notice level for cruise ships to its highest warning level, citing reports of COVID-19 outbreaks on cruises, and said all people should avoid traveling on cruise ships regardless of their vaccination status.
The CDC’s cruise ship tracker shows that all cruise ships operating approved for passenger operations in the United States have had report cases on board that met the CDC’s threshold for investigation.
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