Since the major cruise lines resumed sailing from U.S. ports, they largely have required that all passengers take covid tests no more than two days before their sailings. The results of those tests had to be negative and presented before passengers could board.
It’s a cumbersome requirement because the tests had to be taken in person at a pharmacy or a doctor’s office or they could be proctored at-home tests. That’s not always easy to arrange for people who are flying in for their cruises.
Now, with the CDC dropping its oversight of the cruise industry, at least when it comes to covid, it’s now fully up to the cruise lines whether they plan to keep the precruise testing requirement in place.
Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report have not yet dropped the precruise-covid-test requirement — but a big-name upstart competitor has.
Branson’s Virgin Voyages Drops Covid Tests
Billionaire Richard Branson wants to disrupt the cruise industry with his Virgin Voyages brand. The cruise line allows only adult passengers, and it’s a sort-of-upscale experience at a price that in many cases is in line with what higher-end Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian ships charge.
Virgin has only two ships sailing, with a third on the way (albeit a bit delayed) with Miami being its sort of U.S. homebase.
Now, Branson’s company has become the first major cruise line sailing from U.S. ports to drop the precruise-covid-test requirement, Cruisehive reported.
“Virgin Voyages announced today that, following the ending of the covid-19 Program for Cruise Ships from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cruise line would be ending its precruise testing requirement for sailings from the U.S. as of July 27, 2022,” the website reported.
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Branson’s company also posted a note on its website:
“In response to the discontinuation of the CDC’s Voluntary Program for the Cruise Industry, we’re updating our policies. We’re removing the requirement for a covid-19 test to board as of 7/24/22 (for Valiant Lady) and 7/27/22 (for Scarlet Lady).”
Scarlet Lady is currently sailing four- and five-night itineraries out of Miami.
Other Lines Will Follow; Vaccine Rules Likely to Remain
Testing for covid two days before a cruise has proved an inexact method of controlling the spread of the virus. Passengers can contract covid while traveling to get to the ship but still not test positive.
The goal of all covid programs on board any cruise line’s ship has been to mitigate the spread of the disease and minimize serious illness.
Testing may not be a big help in that effort, and requiring all passengers over age 12 to be vaccinated may not stop people from getting covid, but it absolutely has limited the number of people who get very sick or die.
Royal Caribbean Chief Executive Michael Bayley shared some numbers the CDC had given to him, during his remarks to passengers on the 2022 President’s Cruise, Royal Caribbean Blog first reported.
Bayley explained that the CDC shared some information with him about the “millions” of people who have sailed from U.S. ports over the past 12 months.
“And the number of people who died from covid who’d sailed on ships over the past year was two. Two is terrible. But against the context of everything we’ve seen, [that’s] truly been a remarkable success,” the website reported.
With Virgin dropping the precruise covid test, the other major cruise lines seem likely to follow — perhaps as soon as when they announce August protocols. Testing will, however, remain in place for ships going to destinations that require it.