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CDC approves first cruise ship to sail with paying passengers in June

CDC approves first cruise ship to sail with paying passengers in June
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday gave the green light to a Celebrity Cruises ship to be the first to sail with paying passengers next month. 

Starting on June 26, the Celebrity Edge will embark on the first revenue cruise since the COVID-19 pandemic first crippled the cruise industry in March 2020. The seven-night trip will launch from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and be led by Cpt. Kate McCue, who was the first American female captain, the company announced. 

The Celebrity Edge will have a fully vaccinated crew and require U.S. guests aged 16 and older to be fully vaccinated. In August, the ship will extend that requirement to U.S. guests aged 12 and older.

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A CDC spokesperson confirmed the agency "provisionally approved" the ship to start restricted revenue sailing after the company submitted a request for a conditional sailing certificate and a port agreement.

"CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer," the spokesperson said.

The approval signals a step toward normalcy for the cruise industry that was hit hard by the drastic reductions in travel amid the pandemic. 

Earlier this month, the CDC issued guidance giving cruise lines two options to get back to sailing, with the first being simulated cruises with volunteer passengers to test the ships’ COVID-19 precautions before carrying paying customers.

The alternative involves ships requiring at least 95 percent of passengers and at least 98 percent of crew members to be vaccinated. Under this choice, COVID-19 regulations will be more relaxed. 

Celebrity Cruises, a Royal Caribbean Group, opted for the second choice for the Celebrity Edge, allowing the company to bypass the test cruises that other ships are running. 

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Celebrity Cruises CEO and President Lisa Lutoff-Perl announced the CDC approval for the trip in a tweet that said, “Someday is here.”

“For the past 15 months our conversations with friends and loved ones about seeing the world have been accompanied by the phrase ‘someday,’” she said in a statement. “I’m beyond proud and excited to say that day has arrived.”

The news comes after Royal Caribbean President CEO Michael Bayley announced Tuesday that the CDC approved the company to start test cruises on the Freedom of the Seas ship from PortMiami from June 20 to 22. 

That ship will hold 10 percent of its capacity with volunteer passengers, who either are vaccinated or have to prove they are not at high risk for the virus.

--Updated 12:10 p.m.