The US government is upholding its pandemic-driven restrictions on cruise trips in national waters, turning down an industry request to lift the constraints months ahead of schedule.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced on Wednesday that it wants the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift its restrictions on cruise by July.

The CDC implemented a 40-page order on 30 October last year requiring owners to follow dozens of stipulations that include holding simulated voyages and installing onboard virus-testing labs.

Next phase under review

The Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) remains in effect until 1 November 2021, the CDC told TradeWinds on Wednesday.

"Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading Covid-19," it said. "Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under inter-agency review."

The CLIA said the early July time frame is in line with US President Joe Biden's forecast for when the country will "be closer to normal" with regards to Covid-19, which has put the cruise sector in a year-long deep freeze.

“Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets," chief executive Kelly Craighead said.

Fewer than 50 Covid-19 cases have been reported on these cruiseships for an infection rate that is "dramatically lower" than on land or in any other transport mode, according to the association.

The CDC has not released any further guidance to the industry on resuming operations, thus in effect banning sailings in the world's largest cruise market.

As a result, cruising is the US economy's only sector that remains prohibited from returning to operations, although most others have opened or continued to operate during the pandemic, the CLIA said.

Craighead said: "The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently.

Robust protocols

"Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors."

She said some lines have announced a few sailings for vaccinated passengers, but the CLIA does not yet have a vaccine policy.

"The organisation and its members are exploring a workable approach for how to consider vaccinations, once widely available, as part of robust protocols," she said.