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The Carnival Cruise Line ship Mardi Gras departing from Port Canaveral, Florida, in July. Photo: Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Cruise lines are tightening pandemic protocols as the Delta variant of COVID-19 surges globally, with Carnival Cruise Line the latest to tighten vaccine requirements.

Why it matters: Cruise ships were a coronavirus epicenter early in the pandemic, and the CDC advised last Friday that people at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus should avoid traveling on cruises.

What's happening: The Bahamas' government imposed an emergency order last Thursday banning ships from the country unless everyone over 12 was inoculated against the virus, effective Sept. 3.

  • Royal Caribbean imposed this vaccination requirement the same day.
  • Carnival announced Sunday that from Sept. 3 all guests over 12 years old on cruise lines calling on ports in the Bahamas must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 unless they have a medical exemption.
  • "Effective Aug. 28 through October, for departures from all Atlantic and Gulf homeports, only children under 12 and adults with a medical condition that prohibits their vaccination are exempt from vaccination requirements to sail," Carnival added in its statement.

For the record: The Carnival Vista saw the biggest outbreak of coronavirus cases since cruises resumed in the U.S. and Caribbean last June, with 27 people testing positive for COVID-19 after sailing out from Galveston, Texas, in late July and early August, per the New York Times.

  • One of those passengers later died of the virus in an Oklahoma hospital, though Carnival spokesperson Chris Chiames said in an emailed statement to Axios that the woman "almost certainly did not contract COVID on our ship."
  • Royal Caribbean saw six guests test positive for the virus on the Adventure of the Seas ship, the NYT notes.
  • Both cruise companies responded by further tightening measures.

Of note: Several cruise companies are defying Florida's vaccine passports ban — notably Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the order by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

What they're saying: "Carnival has implemented a suite of protocols that are designed to flex up as needed to adapt to the changing public health situation related to COVID-19," Chiames said.

  • "We meet the standards for a vaccinated cruise as defined by the CDC, with at least 95 percent of our guests and all of our crew being vaccinated, and then implemented additional measures, as we are now requiring vaccinated guests to present both proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test at check-in. 
  • "Those few guests who cannot be vaccinated are tested twice before boarding the ship, and again at debarkation.  And all guests must wear masks in the indoor areas of the ship where people gather, such as dining rooms, theaters and casinos," Chiames added.
"Unfortunately, no venue on land or at sea is COVID-free right now, but we are committed to protecting the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit and have not hesitated to act quickly and go beyond existing public health guidelines."

Go deeper

First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during the daily briefing at the White House on Dec. 1. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker
Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated Dec 2, 2021 - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.