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The Pacific Princess cruise ship is shown docked at the Port of Los Angeles. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it's replacing its "no-sail" order on U.S. cruises with a less restrictive "Conditional Sailing Order," setting the stage for the phased resumption of passenger cruise line travel.

Why it matters: Cruise ships were the sites of some of the most severe coronavirus outbreaks early in the pandemic, before the industry shut down in March.

Details: According to the CDC, the "no sail" order, put in place March 14, will expire this Saturday.

  • Under the conditional sailing order, cruise ship operators must demonstrate in the initial stages "adherence to testing, quarantine and isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect crew members while they build the laboratory capacity needed to test crew and future passengers," the agency said.
  • "Subsequent phases will include simulated (mock) voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and communities."
  • The conditional order applies to passenger ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

What they're saying: “This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing," CDC director Robert Redfield said in a statement. "It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live."

  • Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, added that CLIA member lines "are 100 percent committed to helping to protect the health of our guests, our crew and the communities we serve, and are prepared to implement multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge."

Between the lines: Redfield was overruled when he pushed to extend a "no-sail order" on passenger cruises into 2021, two sources with direct knowledge of the conversation told Axios' Jonathan Swan late last month.

  • Public health officials have privately complained that the thwarting of Redfield is politically motivated because the industry is a major economic presence in Florida — a key battleground state.
  • The White House denies politics played any role in the decision.

The bottom line: Under the latest order, it will likely be months before U.S. cruises resume with passengers on board.

  • Many major cruise lines have suspended all ships leaving from U.S. ports until at least Dec. 1, per the Miami Herald.
  • The CDC still has in place its "Level 3" warning for cruise ship travel, urging travelers to defer all cruise travel worldwide. 

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers — U.S. on the lookout for Omicron casesFDA panel backs Merck's antiviral COVID pill.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns" — Two federal judges temporarily block Biden vaccine mandates.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Pentagon denies Oklahoma National Guard request for exemption from vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron — COVID-19 "radically altered mobility" globally, UN says.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.