The territory's largest contributor to gross domestic product was all but shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I want to thank the Biden Administration, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for acting swiftly to deliver this great news for the Virgin Islands, and for all the U.S. jurisdictions that rely on Tourism as a foundation of their economy,” Mr. Albert Bryan Jr said on Friday.
“While we continue to put in place initiatives to diversify our economy, we will continue supporting our local businesses and vendors who rely on cruise travel to survive.”
He added, “While the Bryan-Roach Administration continues to maintain that balance between public health, the economy and personal freedoms, it is the community’s resilience, compliance and perseverance that has changed the Territory’s vision from a glimmer of hope to a future with a brighter outlook than before the pandemic struck.”
Earlier this April, Mr. Bryan sent a letter that was signed onto by the governors of 5 states and Puerto Rico to senior level officials in the Biden Administration and Ms. Walensky urging them to issue guidelines that would allow cruise ships to return to U.S. ports as expeditiously as possible.
Late Wednesday, the CDC wrote a letter to the cruise industry that said cruise travel could restart mid-July if certain criteria are met. The letter, obtained by USA Today, calls for 95 percent of passengers to be fully vaccinated along with 98 percent of a vessel's crew.
The CDC's latest letter to cruise industry officials includes updates to its guidance to allow for a mid-July cruise travel resumption. According to USA Today, they include the following:
* Ships can bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
* CDC will review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within 5 days, a review previously expected to take 60 days.
* CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew on sailings with paying passengers to align with the CDC's guidance for fully vaccinated people. So, for example, instead of taking a PCR lab test ahead of boarding vaccinated passengers can take a rapid antigen test upon embarkation.
* CDC has clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a "multi-port agreement" rather than a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement.
* The CDC has clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19. For example, local passengers may be able to drive home and passengers who have traveled by air to cruise may quarantine in a hotel.
The updates come on the heels of all-ends pressure on the CDC to allow cruise travel to resume. From state and local governments to industry officials, many pointing to the seemingly unfair status given to the cruise travel sector when other parts of the leisure travel industry have been allowed to operate.
Other countries such as the U.K., Singapore and Italy have authorized cruises or set a clear target date for them to set sail. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, almost 400,000 passengers have sailed since some countries began to allow cruises again in July.