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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

Sep 17, 2021 - Health

International Mission Board to require COVID vaccine for missionaries

Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

The International Mission Board, which deploys thousands of missionaries, announced that its plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations for those they're sending into the field.

Why it matters: COVID-19 refusal rates are among the highest among white evangelical Christians and the requirement by the International Mission Board may be the first U.S. missionary agency known to have such a mandate.

Sep 18, 2021 - Health

Most Kentucky school boards vote in favor of mask mandates

Photo: Paul Bersebach, MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

A majority of school boards in Kentucky voted in favor of mask mandates, according to the Kentucky School Board Association.

Why it matters: A week ago, Kentucky's Republican-dominated legislature voted to revoke a statewide mask mandate in public schools that was meant to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The decision on masks would instead be left up to individual districts.

Sep 18, 2021 - Science

Inspiration4's all-civilian crew calls Tom Cruise from space

Photo: Neil Mockford/GC Images via Getty Images

The all-civilian SpaceX crew called actor Tom Cruise on Friday, giving him a glimpse into their experience in orbit two days after the successful Inspiration4 launch.

Don't forget: NASA announced last year that it would work with Cruise on a film aboard the International Space Station — though it's unclear where that currently stands.