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Cruise lines say they will follow CDC coronavirus guidelines

The Norwegian Gem cruise ship is shown docked in Miami. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

The world’s largest cruise companies said Friday that they will voluntarily follow public health measures meant to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreaks on ships operating in the United States.

Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings — representing more than a dozen brands between them — told The Washington Post that they would participate in the new voluntary program under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cruise Lines International Association, an industry group, recommended its members opt in.

“The updated instructions move closer to recognizing the cruise industry’s leadership in effectively mitigating COVID-19, as well as acknowledging ongoing improvements in the health environment,” the group said in a statement.

The CDC confirmed that the three major companies opted in but did not provide an update on any smaller cruise lines. Operators had until Friday to decide. The deadline came just days after the CDC lowered its coronavirus travel warning for cruises from “very high” to “high.” The agency said that people who are not up to date with their vaccines, as well as those at increased risk for severe illness from covid-19, should still avoid cruises.

CDC lowers cruise travel warning from ‘very high’ to ‘high’

In recent days, some cruise lines including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean International said they are relaxing mask requirements for vaccinated passengers after putting stricter rules in place during the omicron surge.

Last month, the public health agency turned the rules that cruise lines had to follow during much of the pandemic into recommendations. Those rules included mask, testing and vaccination requirements for passengers and crew.

Many of the original rules remain part of the voluntary program, though there have been some updates. Lines that opt in will have to follow all of the recommendations; they are not allowed to pick some and discard others.

As part of the program, the CDC will continue to display a list of cruise ships sailing in U.S. waters and indicate whether they have reported coronavirus cases on board. The agency will also show whether a certain percent of people on ships are vaccinated and, in a new category, whether most on board are up to date on their coronavirus vaccines.

“It’s really about transparency with the cruising public,” Aimee Treffiletti, a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and lead for the CDC’s maritime unit, told The Washington Post last month. “They’ll be able to say that they’re in constant communication with the CDC, they’re reporting covid cases as well as other respiratory disease to the CDC on a daily basis, they’re following all the public health protocols and mitigation strategies to control the spread.”