The Federal Government has confirmed it is reviewing conflicting cruise vaccination protocols, raising the hopes of thousands of unvaccinated cruisers that they may, at last, be allowed back on ships.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee should announce its vaccine mandate review within the week – just in time for the new cruise season, which kicks off in September.

After that, the Federal Government will make its recommendation, with the states expected will follow.

Cruise Passenger has been leading reporting of the debate, which has divided cruise passengers. It is believed to affect families travelling with children and teenagers, who at the time, were ineligible to be vaccinated.

Current regulations

Currently, the Federal Government has no vaccination mandates in place for cruises. But NSW, Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland abide by the Eastern Seaboard Protocols based on advice from the federal Communicable Disease Network Australia.

In a letter seen by Cruise Passenger, Shenuka Wraight, Director of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet confirmed the review to Tamworth state MP, Kevin Anderson.

Wraight wrote: “The Eastern Seaboard and Western Australia Cruise Protocols, together with the Communicable Disease Network Australia National Guidelines for Cruising, provide a framework to support the cruise industry in managing Covid-19 risks. 

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The letter to State MP Kevin Anderson.

“The CDNA is currently undertaking a holistic review of the guidelines, with a view to finalising this work prior to the start of the next summer cruising season.” 

Wraight’s advice of a review, now confirmed by Cruise Passenger with the Australian Government, Department of Health and Aged Care, is highly significant, given government bodies have so far remained silent on any changes to the rules.

Cruisers have been vocal about wanting to end vaccine mandates.

In a poll on a Royal Caribbean Facebook group, of 768 people asked, three-quarters of the respondents said they wanted to allow everyone to cruise. The remaining quarter said they wanted to keep the rules in place.

The current situation

Currently, the Federal Government has no vaccination mandates for cruises, but NSW, Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland abide by the Eastern Seaboard Protocols. They were based on advice from the CDNA, which falls under the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care. 

The Department of Health and Aged Care confirmed the current review.

“The CDNA National Guidelines for Cruising in Australia are being reviewed ahead of the next cruising season.

“State and territory governments are responsible for The Eastern Seaboard and Western Australian Cruise Protocols.”

Essentially, while the states set their own rules, they remain informed by Federal health advice.

Current CDNA guidelines state: “At a minimum, the cruise operator should ensure that at least 95% of passengers aged 12 years and over are ‘fully vaccinated’.”

If this recommendation changes, then it’s likely Australians will no longer need the jab to cruise.

Australia remains one of the few global destinations still enforcing vaccination mandates. Viking Cruises has announced they will be lifting vaccination requirements (where not enforced by the government) on November 1, 2023. This marks the last major cruise line to uphold any vaccination requirements after the countries they’re sailing in have dropped them. 

Generally, lines have not just dropped vaccination requirements when able but also removed testing and mask requirements. 

Cruise Passenger is awaiting official comment from the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

cruise vaccination rules could be about to change
Many families with unvaccinated children are awaiting the review results.

What could change after the review? 

  • The vaccination requirement that all passengers 12 and older must be ‘fully vaccinated’ to board a cruise ship 
  • That is all crew must be vaccinated 
  • The requirement for pre-cruise healthy screenings 
  • The requirement that symptomatic passengers on the day of boarding must be referred for extra medical assessment 
  • The requirement for symptomatic passengers to return a negative PCR test before boarding
  • The requirement for a pre-cruise PCR or RAT test
  • The requirement for the crew to test every 14-days or when showing symptoms 
  • The requirement for cruise lines to provide free initial medical assessments for respiratory symptoms 
  • The requirement to isolate for five days following a positive Covid test result 
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Will the government change isolation rules?

What are people saying? 

Many cruisers are nervously awaiting the results of the review. Including those who have cruises booked despite not being vaccinated and those with younger children who aren’t vaccinated. 

Ben Vee wrote on one forum: “We are due to pay our cruise balance by the end of September, and I’m not confident they’ll decide before that time.

“We’re in limbo at the moment. We’re really looking forward to the cruise, but if we have to cancel that’s around $4800 we’re not going to pay.”

Kylie Barnfield said her daughter is just about to turn 12, the current age cut-off for vaccination requirements. But she does not want to vaccinate her daughter just for a cruise. 

“My daughter turns 12 in January and she’s had Covid twice. I’m choosing not to vaccinate her but would love to take her on another cruise. 

“Very frustrating and ridiculous.”

For more information on cruise vaccination rules, click here.