The Eastern Seaboard Protocols, which have been dictating Australian cruise COVID practices for two years, could be dropped shortly.

A review of national and state regulations is set to begin, according to Jeff Gillies, Commercial Director of Coral Expeditions.

We understand that there may be some updates to the national and state regulations in the month ahead and that vaccine requirements may be up for review. We will look closely at the legislation changes and then apply to our company policy where we see fit.

“We expect the new directions to come as soon as April 23 and we would review and make any changes shortly thereafter.” 

Mr Gillies said for Coral Expeditions, small expeditions ships could maintain stringent health regulations due to the risky nature of travelling to remote areas, far from medical services, this could spell significant change for the larger cruise lines. 

Currently, per the Eastern Seaboard Protocols, all passengers 12 years and older must be vaccinated, passengers symptomatic on the day of boarding are subject to further assessment and take a negative RAT test within 24 hours of boarding. 

If the upcoming review leads to a change in these requirements, we could see the major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, P&O and Carnival Cruise Line update their policies accordingly. 

This would follow the pattern in the United States, where cruise lines began to lift their policy after President Joe Biden announced the ceasing of COVID’s classification as a public health emergency from May 11 onwards. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention removed its recommendation for vaccine requirements, cruise lines have begun adjusting their own COVID policies. 

Major cruise lines in the US such as Carnival Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, P&O Cruises, Princess, Royal Caribbean and more currently allow unvaccinated passengers the majority of the time, but still maintain some rules around pre-screening, testing and onboard isolation. 

However, some cruise lines such as Cunard, Ponant, Lindblad, Oceania and Windstar are planning to eliminate their requirements altogether, which wouldn’t just mean no vaccination requirements, but also no pre-cruise screening and no isolation onboard.

Dom Berle, CEO of Lindblad expeditions said: “I think health concerns are going down dramatically.

“We’re seeing very few incidences of Covid on the ships. That obviously gets back to guests that are communicating with each other and their community. I think people are feeling safe.”

CEO of Americas at Ponant, Navin Sawhney, had a similar outlook: “After careful consideration of the lower incidence of Covid infections, combined with the higher rate of vaccinated and boosted guests, we have decided to relax our policy.”

A spokesperson for Oceania told Cruise Passenger: “The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is of paramount importance. We have relaxed our Covid health and safety protocols in line with the current public health environment. Except where required by local governments, we have eliminated ALL vaccine and testing requirements. We will freely allow all guests onboard regardless of testing or vaccination status.”

In Australia, there are no nationwide rules requirement cruise passengers to be vaccinated, however, the majority of states are operating under the Eastern Seaboard Protocols, which do require this.

Oceania is dropping all COVID requirements wherever legally possible.

While 95% of Australians aged 12 and older are vaccinated, any changes to policy would be significant to the unvaccinated, as well as families with younger children that may find it hard to sail with current vaccination thresholds. 

Only 59.1% of Australians aged five to 15 are currently vaccinated, meaning some cruising families with young children haven’t always been able to take to the seas.

Currently 95% of those sailing on ships in Australia must be vaccinated, with the 5% allowing for unvaccinated children and those with medical exemptions.

Furthermore, this would mean that if you have COVID and still wish to sail, or contract it onboard but still feel well enough to move around the ship, you’ll be able to.

Queensland Health weren’t able to confirm if the protocols will be reviewed soon, writing in a statement.

“The Eastern Seaboard and Western Australia Cruise Protocols have been developed by the Queensland, New South Wales, Victorian and Western Australia Governments in close partnership with the cruise industry.

“Queensland regularly liaises with its Eastern Seaboard and Western Australian counterparts on the protocols, which are regularly reviewed.”

The New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet is currently unable to comment due to being in caretaker mode for the upcoming election.

With cruise policies in Australia set for a potential shake up, how do you feel about unvaccinated cruisers potentially rejoining you onboard?