America’s powerful US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the CDC, has admitted it has yet to consider measures to allow the return of passengers to cruising.

CDC’s director of Global Migration and Quarantine Martin Cetron told the Miami Herald cruise lines face a “Herculean” task in protecting future passengers and compared infection risks to those at long-term care facilities or even prisons.

“You scale that to where your population is global in nature. It’s all of those challenges plus being out at sea without access to rapid medical support that’s needed,” he said.

The CDC has only just reviewed plans to help cruise lines get the thousands of crew still stranded on vessels home, using a colour coded system to show which ships are at most risk.

He said the task of controlling the virus when ships were near empty demonstrated how much was involved in protecting passengers when they were  at capacity.

“This is the bare minimum,” Mr Cetron told the Miami Herald. “If a line ever wants to get back to full density on board, bringing on board people who are at risk of dying of COVID, they have to be able to control COVID on these ships when their occupancy is 90% less. It will be this plan on steroids.”

Most cruise lines have yet to announce health plans, and the industry has been waiting for a consensus for protocols driving through Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

But this week, Norwegian announced a series of measures including air filtration systems and a new Public Health Officer position for each ship.

The Miami paper reported that it had interviewed five doctors, some of whom had treated coronavirus patients on cruise ships,  and they recommend cruises running at 50% capacity and staying within 500 miles of land.

The news that the CDC has not yet considered health protocols for vessels with passengers is a blow to those keen to cruise and may explain why this week has seen another rash of cruise “pauses”, including Princess and MSC.

It is almost three months since the industry was shut down. And even after the CDC passes any protocols, CLIA Australasia has said it will consult with health officials in every state and territory before cruise gets the all clear – a long and arduous diplomatic process, judging by the views of some state politicians.

The CDC has been reviewing a system to get crews home involving  grading vessels  on a colour-coded system:

  • Green for no confirmed cases of COVID-19 or COVID-like illness for 28 days, so crews can take commercial flights
  • Yellow for one or more COVID-like illness cases pending confirmation
  • Red for one or more cases of confirmed COVID-19 or COVID-like illness within the past 28 days

There are over 60,000 crews still waiting to go home.