(CMR) The CDC increased the Cruise Travel Health Notice to Level 4, recommending people avoid cruise travel regardless of vaccination status. The recommendation comes after they announced separately that at least 88 vessels are either under investigation or observation for COVID-19 outbreaks. One of them is the ship that was scheduled to visit Grand Cayman on Tuesday.
Since the identification of the Omicron variant, there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among cruise passengers and crew reported to CDC. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of cruise ships meeting the COVID-19 case threshold for CDC investigation (i.e., Yellow status on the Cruise Ship Color Status webpage).
On December 28th, Holland America’s MS Nieuw Statendam cruise ship was scheduled to visit Grand Cayman. Some 1,600 passengers were expected to be on board, and it would have been the first to call on the Cayman Islands since the borders were closed in early 2020. However, during CMR’s Premier Access show on December 22nd, Premier Wayne Panton announced the visit would not happen due to the current COVID-19 situation. “We would be sending mixed messages if we allowed it to come,” said Premier Panton. “A lot has changed.”
CMR understands that there were multiple factors, including that the government wanted to introduce some additional precautionary measures that the cruise line could not fulfill. The emergence of the Omicron variant was also a contributing factor in the cancellation.
“This is one of these scenarios where the circumstances has conspired against us. There are a variety of issues that presents themselves and you realize it is probably not the best thing for this to continue. The circumstances and potential benefit that we thought was going to happen are less likely to materialize and the risk profile is likely to shift, so we’ve taken the position that we are not going to proceed with this cruise ship visit. Unfortunately, this will have an impact on some people,” Premier Panton added.
With hundreds of vessels currently sailing and attempting to return to normal major lines including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Hollard America have been denied entry to Aruba, Bonaire, Curaco and other ports.
Aruba and Curaco denied Royal Caribbean last week after 55 passengers aboard the Odyssey of the Seas cruise ship tested positive. The previous week 48 people on the Symphony of the Seas tested positive as it returned to be docked in Florida.
On Monday, Carnival Panorama, while in the middle of a seven-night Mexican Riviera voyage from Long Beach, California was denied entry at Puerto Vallarta. The ship is said to have five ill passengers and at least 100 positive crew. The ship was prevented from visiting Mazatlan Tuesday until the Mexico Health Department intervened saying that they would allow passengers who test negative to disembark provided World Health Organization protocols were followed.
The Carnival Panorama can accommodate 3,936 passengers and 1,450 crew members, according to data published by the company on its website. Mexico has been one of the most consistently lenient countries throughout the pandemic in terms of travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, airlines were forced to cancel more flights due to the Omicron variant. Some 8,300 international and domestic flights were cancelled over the three-day Christmas weekend, with Chinese airlines alone cancelling more than 2,000 flights, many of them to Xi'an, whose 13 million inhabitants are under lockdown.
The disruptions continued on Monday — with about 2,500 flights scrapped. The FlightAware website was on Tuesday morning reporting that 1,722 flights had been cancelled on Tuesday.