Carnival Cruise Carnival, among other cruise lines, gets ready to sail, but how will they comply with social distancing rules?
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Carnival Cruise Line said it is still determining what specific measures it will take to prevent future outbreaks once it resumes sailing.

Carnival Cruise Line said recently that it plans to gradually resume cruising in North America in August, nearly five months after it halted operations due to the new coronavirus.

Sailings will begin on Aug. 1 or soon after, with eight ships setting off from Galveston, Texas; Miami; and Port Canaveral, Florida. A majority of customers can easily drive to those ports, the company noted. Those cruises would sail to destinations including the Bahamas and Cozumel, Mexico, according to Carnival’s web site. However, ships will not be cruising from Alaska, Hawaii and Australia through Aug. 31. 

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a no-sail order to cruise companies on March 14. It was extended and is set to expire July 24. The order prompted several countries, including some in the Caribbean, to reject cruise ships suspected of carrying infected passengers and crew members, stranding some ships at sea for weeks. Many cruise ships had outbreaks at sea, with some passengers and crew members dying on board or after disembarking from international trips.

The CDC says infectious diseases can easily spread when crew members from a ship with an outbreak transfer to other ships. It notes outbreaks of COVID-19 on cruise ships also pose a risk because passengers can spread the disease into communities across the world after disembarkation.

Carnival Cruise Line said it is still determining what specific measures it will take to prevent future outbreaks once it resumes sailing.

“We continue to engage with the CDC and government officials at a variety of levels about new protocols we would implement prior to a return to sailing,” the company said. “We will also be in discussions with officials in the destinations we visit.”

Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University’s College of Public Health, said she’s not sure how cruising can be done safely. Even with reduced capacity, she said, ventilation systems can still spread droplets through enclosed spaces.

“Everything would still have to be distanced,” she said. “Dancing, concerts on board, other types of entertainment? Doubtful. Pools? Probably overcrowded. Dining? No idea how they’d do it.”

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Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line is the largest brand owned by Carnival Corp., which also owns Princess, Holland America Line and other brands. Carnival Cruise Line has 27 ships and transported 5 million passengers last year.

Other cruise companies are also making plans to return to service. Royal Caribbean says it intends to resume at least some sailings on June 12, while Norwegian Cruise Like plans to restart some operations on July 1.

Cruise companies have taken a huge hit from the new coronavirus. Still, parent Carnival Corp. is in good financial shape. It has raised nearly $6 billion in debt and equity since the crisis began, and its CEO recently said the company can last through 2020 with no revenue from cruises. The company wasn’t eligible for loan assistance from the U.S. government because it is incorporated in Panama.