By Helen Coster
(Reuters) – Cruise industry rivals are teaming up in an effort to sail again.
On Monday, Royal Caribbean Group (N:) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd (N:) announced a joint task force to help develop safety standards for restarting their businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
The “Healthy Sail Panel,” co-chaired by former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, is advising the companies on restart plans they will submit to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulators at the end of August. The panel plans to share its findings with the entire cruise industry and regulators.
The cruise industry has taken a major hit from the pandemic, with some of the earliest large clusters of COVID-19 occurring aboard cruise ships in which thousands of passengers and crew were packed in close quarters.
On March 14, the CDC issued a no-sail order for all cruise ships, which it subsequently extended to July 24.
Operators including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Corp (N:) have voluntarily extended their pause in operations from U.S. ports until September.
During a group interview Monday, Leavitt, Royal Caribbean Chief Executive Officer Richard Thain and Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio did not offer details on what protocols might be included in an industry restart, or whether recent spikes in U.S. coronavirus cases may further extend the pause in operations.
“We are all just feeling our way here, and it’s become clear to me that there is a shift happening sociologically in the context of masks,” said Leavitt. “I think it’ll be very interesting to see what other businesses do. And not just the cruise lines, but others. We’re all just working our way through this.”
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