Norwegian Cruise Line will require COVID-19 vaccine in bid to get cruises restarted

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Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will require all passengers and crew to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when U.S. cruises restart, becoming the first of the three largest cruise companies to mandate inoculations for all on board.

The new mandate applies to passengers and crew members on the company’s three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas. The company made the announcement in a bid to convince the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow its ships to begin cruises from U.S. ports in July. On Friday, the CDC gave the green light to fully vaccinated people to resume traveling, but its Level 4 warning against cruise travel — the agency’s highest — remains in place. Cruises have been canceled in the U.S. since March 2020 after COVID-19 outbreaks on multiple ships.

In addition to the warning, the CDC is preventing companies from cruising from U.S. ports until they meet the requirements of its “conditional sail order,” a framework for getting the industry going again during the pandemic first published in October. As part of the second phase of the conditional sail order, on Friday the CDC released rules for agreements that cruise companies must secure with ports and local health authorities in the U.S. cities they plan to visit before cruising can resume.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio touted the company’s new vaccine mandate in a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Monday. The letter did not mention whether the company will comply with the agency’s new rules for port agreements. A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings did not immediately respond to request for comment.

“By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC’s existing Conditional Sailing Order (“CSO”) to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew and the communities we visit,” Del Rio said in his letter. “Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021.”

Del Rio said the company would start cruises at 60% capacity in July and then increase by 20% capacity every 30 days. He also said the company would comply with protocols developed by a team of medical experts hired by the company last year, including antigen tests for passengers prior to boarding, mask wearing and enhanced ship-board medical teams.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the only major cruise company to announce a requirement for proof of the vaccine from all passengers and crew. Royal Caribbean Group said it will require all crew and passengers over 18 years old to be vaccinated, and Carnival Corporation has not yet announced its stance on the vaccine. Smaller lines Virgin Voyages and Windstar Cruises will require all passengers and crew to be vaccinated.