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Cruise lines start dropping COVID-19 vaccine requirements

Canada to require proof of vaccination on cruises, unlike Europe, U.S.
A cruise ship is docked at Canada Place in Vancouver | BIV files

Cruise lines have announced plans to stop requiring passengers to show proof of being vaccinated before boarding ships in parts of the U.S. and Europe.

Canada, however, has so far not shown any indication that it will follow those countries by changing regulations to make it easier to board ships and industry insiders told BIV that they are unaware of any lobbying efforts to nudge Ottawa to do that. 

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE:RCL), Carnival Corp. (NYSE: CCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NYSE:NCLH) said this week that they are dropping vaccination requirements for some sailings next month.

Norwegian was first out of the gate earlier this week when it posted a notice on its website saying that starting Sept. 3, it would not require passengers show proof of vaccination unless local laws required it.

Royal Caribbean then said that starting in September it will no longer require proof of vaccination on ships that depart ports in California, Louisiana, Texas, and any country in Europe.

Carnival-owned Princess Cruises said in a news release today that it will also remove vaccination requirements on "most voyages of less than 16 days" starting Sept. 6.

Princess Cruises said its rationale to end the vaccine requirements were to ensure that "anyone can cruise." It remains to be seen whether having fewer COVID-19 restrictions will attract more passengers than it repels.

"I suspect that it cuts both ways," said Cruise Lines International Association - North West & Canada (CLIA) spokesman Barry Penner.

He told BIV that ships on the Vancouver-to-Alaska run have been operating with considerably fewer passengers than pre-pandemic. In May and June, ships carried 283,762 passengers out of Vancouver, he said. That is down more than 29 per cent compared with 400,499 passengers in those months in 2019. 

"At the same time, we saw an increase in the number of ship calls," he said. "So we had actually more ship visits, but fewer passengers overall."

A similar trend was evident in Victoria, where there were 229,605 cruise passengers in May and June, compared with 264,071 passengers in those months in 2019 – a 13-per-cent drop. 

Less occupancy has provided passengers more opportunity to socially distance from others.

No cruise ships out of B.C. so far this year have had COVID-19 outbreaks. 

B.C.'s 2022 cruise season was delayed, however, when the first vessel slated to dock in the province since 2019 cancelled its arrival. 

Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess had planned to dock in Victoria on April 6, and Vancouver the next day. The company then cancelled the planned stop and cruise departure so it could do maintenance. U.S. officials then confirmed that they were investigating cases of COVID-19 on board.

While Penner is not urging the government to drop vaccine requirements, he has been lobbying for Ottawa to streamline its ArriveCan app so travellers to enter Canada from abroad can input all information about their cruises all at once.

The current system is that travellers need to input information when they arrive at the airport, or cross the border. They then need to separately input data before boarding their cruises. 

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