Covid-19 and the Cruise Industry – What’s Next?

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The Covid-19 Pandemic will undoubtedly change a lot of things, from where we shop, to how receive health care. Once the dust settles and businesses begin to reopen, leisure travel will again be something to consider. And I think the travel industry is in for even more changes; in fact, I believe travel in post-Covid-19 times will be an entirely different experience, especially for cruise ship passengers.

No-Sail Orders

First, a little history of how we got to our current situation. When Covid-19 broke out people were traveling and cruising as usual. As things became more dire, folks headed home, and some countries closed their borders. Then there were reports of outbreaks on cruise ships, and countries denied docking to infected vessels. Many passengers and crew members died, and when the remaining passengers were finally allowed to disembark they were subject to strict quarantines. It was not the best PR moment for the cruise industry, especially when ships were called “floating petri dishes” by epidemiology experts.

Then on March 14, 2020 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stepped in and issued a 30 day no-sail order for all cruise lines. And some cruise lines posted new passenger screening requirements, that basically barred anybody over 70 from taking a cruise, without a doctor’s note. On March 24, 2020 the CDC extended that no-sail order an additional 90 days. That order took effect on the day it was published in the Federal Register on April 15, 2020. The CDC subsequently subsequently extended that order until July 24, 2020, (https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/cruise/index.html)

That said, many in the cruise industry held that the second order didn’t extend the original no-sail order an additional 90 days, but instead just added an extra 60 days to the March 14 order (making the end date on June 12, 2020).

The CDC also ordered the cruise lines to develop a specific plan to stop the spread of Covid-19, once they are allowed to sail again.

What the Future Holds

So now the cruise lines – many of which still believe they will be able to resume sailing on June 12, 2020 – are scrambling to come up with ideas to help stop the spread of Covid-19 on their ships. And in this haste, some of what may become future regulations was published on the Royal Caribbean website. Initially the were to take effect on July 12, 2020, but they were later edited and included with the screening regulations that went into effect on March 13, 2020.

The new addition included regulations that would deny boarding to any passengers who had any of the CDC’s high risk health conditions, including:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Moderate to severe asthma
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Immuno compromised people (folks who are undergoing cancer treatments, bone marrow or organ transplant recipients, people who have immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, have used corticosteroids or other immune weakening medications for a long time)
  • BMI of 40 or higher
  • Diabetics
  • Dialysis patients
  • Chronic kidney or liver disease.

As you can imagine, there was an enormous uproar about these restrictions, and a huge backlash of tweets and Facebook posts ensued. Many said that these restrictions were not allowed under the non-discrimination part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which does apply to cruise ships. The excrement hit the rotary oscillating device.

One day later, these new regulations as well as the one that prohibited people over 70 from cruising, were removed from the Royal Caribbean website.

And the cruise line is silent about it.

My take on it all, is that I think there will be some severe restrictions when the cruise lines are allowed to set sail, and these restrictions will remain in place until there is a Covid-19 vaccine. Will they include the regulation that Royal Caribbean posted? Truly, anything is possible at this stage of the game. At the very least, expect to get a temperature check and fill out a medical questionnaire before you are allowed to board your next cruise. I also think that when a Covid-19 vaccine is developed, proof of vaccination will be required by the cruise lines. Remember, this bug is going to be with a for a long time.

It’s a brave new world out there, and you never know what the new normal will entail. But it won’t be back to business as usual, that’s for sure.

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