The cruise ship the Norwegian Jewel sits near dozens of container ships off the coast of Long Beach, California, Feb 25, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The cruise industry could resume sailing from and to US ports starting in mid-July — after being halted for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — if most on board are vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Cruise ships can sail without test cruises if they attest that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated, the CDC said in a letter to the industry’s leaders on April 28 after meeting with the heads of the largest US cruise lines.

The CDC’s letter was welcomed by cruise companies.

Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, told USA Today that he was hopeful that the letter is a “harbinger of more good things to come”.

The CDC said in a statement on April 29: “We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO (“conditional-sail order”) by midsummer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines.”

Cruises were some of the first super-spreaders for the coronavirus in 2020. In October, the CDC issued the CSO to remain in effect until November 2021, requiring all ships to conduct test cruises and apply for a certificate at least 60 days before offering passenger cruises.

Joe Allen, an environmental health expert at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, studied the outbreaks on cruise ships last year, including the Diamond Princess, where more than 700 people were infected, and 14 died.

“The CDC, in my view, was right to move cautiously, and phased approaching is correct. It’s hard to imagine the CDC prioritizing cruise ships right now when we still have some schools that are closed,” he told National Public Radio.

But the industry has accused the CDC of treating it differently than other hospitality sectors.

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, threatened in April to take the company’s vessels out of the US and begin sailing from foreign ports if the CDC didn’t do more to restart the industry.

Coastal Florida is the country’s biggest home to the industry, and on April 8, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sued the agency, demanding cruises be “reopened immediately”.

“We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data,” he said.

The suit asked that the CSO be declared unlawful because cruise lines “are on the brink of financial ruin” and should be able to operate with “reasonable safety protocols”.

Alaska joined the lawsuit. State Attorney General Treg Taylor said in a statement that the “CDC simply does not have the authority to arbitrarily shut down an entire industry”.

Prior to the pandemic, approximately 60,000 south Floridians worked for the cruise lines or as travel agents, shuttle drivers, longshoremen and other cruise-related jobs.