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CDC drops its recommendation against cruise ship travel

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday dropped its two-year-old travel advisory that warned Americans against boarding cruise ships. It's a move that could help the cruise line industry recover from billions of dollars in losses incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

The CDC first cautioned Americans to stay off cruise ships in 2020 during the height of the health crisis. The agency said last year that close quarters on ships could allow COVID-19 to spread rapidly, raising the risk of passengers and crew getting infected. As the COVID-19 Omicron variant started spreading across the U.S. late last year, the CDC urged Americans to avoid cruise travel. 

"While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings," the CDC said in a statement.  

Industry group Cruise Lines International Association said the CDC's move "recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020."

Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean dropped their mask mandates early this year as COVID-related cases and deaths declined across the nation. 

Cruise lines began adding vaccination and testing requirements to ships that set sail from U.S. ports last June. The requirements haven't prevented passengers from catching the virus, however. An unknown number of passengers and crew members aboard a Princess Cruise ship in California tested positive last weekend while taking a 15-day cruise to the Panama Canal.

The CDC still advises passengers to get up-to-date vaccinations before climbing aboard. The agency also suggests travelers to consult with a doctor if they're immunocompromised or at higher risk for severe illness. 

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Cruise operators were battered by COVID-19 outbreaks in the early days of the pandemic, with ships bearing infected passengers barred from docking in California and Florida. The number of people booking cruises plummeted during the pandemic and cruise companies collectively lost $63 billion and shed thousands of jobs in 2020 and 2021, according to CLIA data

The CLIA said the cruise lines are expected to make a full recovery from the pandemic by next year.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line's stock prices rose Wednesday to $81.50 and $21.25, respectively, while Carnival's fell slightly to $19.50. 

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