MIAMI (AP) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned people on Thursday not to take on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, due to outbreaks powered by the omicron variant.
The CDC said it has more than 90 cruise ships under investigation or observation as a result of COVID-19 cases. The agency has not disclosed the number of infections.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people close to board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high,” even though people are fully vaccinated and have received a booster, the CDC said.
The Cruise Lines International Association said it was disappointed with the new recommendations, saying the industry was highlighted despite following stricter health protocols than other travel sectors.
The decision “is particularly confusing given that cases identified on cruise ships consistently represent a very slim minority of the total population on board,” it said in a statement. “The majority of these cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, and they pose little or no burden on medical resources on board or on land.”
In March 2020, when the coronavirus took hold in the United States, the CDC put an end to all cruises in what turned out to be 15 months. Last June, it allowed ships to resume sailing under strict new conditions.
In August, as the delta variant rose, the agency warned people at risk of serious illness despite being vaccinated not to go on cruises.
The CDC on Thursday also recommended that passengers be tested and quarantined for five days after docking, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they have no symptoms.
Omicron has sent cases soaring to unprecedented levels across the United States, including Florida, the center of the country’s cruise industry. The state set another record this week for new daily cases, with more than 58,000 registered Wednesday.
U.S. cruise lines have not announced any plans to halt travel, although ships have been denied entry into some foreign ports.
Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell said in an email following the CDC recommendation that the company had no planned changes.
“Our improved health and safety protocols have proven to be effective time and time again over the past year,” he said.
Prior to the CDC announcement, the Royal Caribbean Group said in a statement that omicron leads to passenger cancellations and changes to itineraries, but it causes “significantly less severe symptoms than previous variants.”
The company said that since sailing resumed in U.S. waters last spring, 1.1 million guests had traveled with their cruise lines, and 1,745 people had tested positive for COVID-19, or about 0.16%.
The company further said that 41 people required hospitalization and that no passengers affected with omicron had been brought to the hospital.
“We do not like to see a single case, but our experience is a fraction of the comparable statistics from just about any other comparable location or industry. Few companies are subject to such intense control, regulation and disclosure requirements from so many authorities,” said Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean.
Most cruise line companies require adult passengers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Ships are allowed to relax measures such as mask use if at least 95% of the passengers and 95% of the crew are fully vaccinated.
Iris Krysty, 76, of Hamburg, New Jersey, and her husband are expected to depart on a 10-day Caribbean cruise on Jan. 19. This latest CDC warning leaves travelers like them in an unfair bond, she said. Krysty was told on Thursday that they can only get a refund if they test positive before the trip. So they will go on to avoid losing thousands of dollars – a decision their daughter and son-in-law are not happy with.
“I know they’re sad we’re leaving, but it’s a lot of money for us to lose,” Krysty said. “As far as we know, we’re leaving and hoping we’re okay.”
Janine Calfo, 55, of Salt Lake City, earlier this month postponed a four-day carnival cruise from Long Beach, California, to Ensenada, Mexico, when she had a breakthrough case of COVID-19 three days before departure. She rebooked the cruise for February and is still set to go.
“This is my own personal opinion, but it looks like omicron will be a quick burn,” said Calfo, who is asthmatic and plans to get the booster in a few weeks. “My cruise is over 40 days away.”
However, she added: “I think I will plan to get a travel insurance this time.”
Associated Press writer Terry Tang of San Jose, California, contributed to this report.
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