By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is “committed” to the resumption of cruise industry passenger operations in the United States by mid-summer, the agency said on Wednesday, announcing new steps to speed approvals.
The assurance comes after the state of Alaska last week joined Florida’s April 8 suit to overturn a CDC decision to bar the industry from immediately resuming operations halted for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If a ship attests that 98% of its crew and 95% of its passengers are fully vaccinated,” the agency told the industry in a letter released publicly, that ship may skip simulated voyages and move directly to open water sailing.
The CDC said it would respond within five days to applications for simulated voyages, down from an anticipated 60 days.
It added that it would update testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew to align with its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, among other steps.
The industry did not immediately comment.
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However, the CDC said in its letter that the mid-summer timeline envisaged compliance with a conditional sail order (CSO) it issued this month and “aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines.”
It said, “Cruising will never be a zero-risk activity,” adding that the goal of the CSO phased approach was to resume operations in a way that cuts the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard ships and across port communities.
The agency looks forward to reviewing plans from cruise lines, it said.
Cruise company chief executives met this month with health experts and White House staff to consider ways for the pandemic-battered industry to return to business.
This month, largest player Carnival Corp called the CDC instructions “unworkable”, threatening to shift the home ports of its cruise ships to other parts of the world if the United States did not allow it to start sailing.
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(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)