Dec 30, 2021 - Economy

Omicron brings calls to pause cruise ships again

Passengers of a cruise ship are perched on their balconies.

Passengers wait for the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas cruise ship to set sail on Christmas Eve in Bayonne, N.J. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Cruise lines are facing pressure to temporarily cease sailing as they grapple with the worst COVID outbreaks since they resumed trips in the summer.

Driving the news: The CDC on Thursday said all travelers should avoid cruises, no matter their vaccination status.

Why it matters: Cruise lines could be plunged back into crisis mode if they’re forced to hit pause or are limited to certain destinations.

  • As of Thursday, 91 ships were facing CDC probes into COVID cases. It's the most since the agency allowed cruises to begin sailing again from U.S. ports in the summer, CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed confirmed.
  • Disney, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are among those affected despite a mix of vaccine requirements and mask rules.
  • "I feel like I just spent my past week at a superspreader event," 34-year-old passenger Ashley Peterson told the Washington Post after her ship, the Carnival Freedom, was turned away from a Caribbean port due to onboard infections.

Threat level: “Time for CDC & cruise lines to protect consumers & again pause—docking their ships,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Twitter. “Cruises are repeating recent history as petri dishes of COVID infection.”

State of play: The cruise industry called the new CDC travel advisory "perplexing."

  • "No setting can be immune from this virus — however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus," Bari Golin-Blaugrund, spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association, said in a statement.
  • "Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel, and significantly lower incidence rates than land."

What's next: As Omicron spreads, cruise ships may be forced to impose more restrictions or pause sailing.

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