Today the Government of Australia extended the ban against cruise travel to a minimum of three months:

Newspapers across Australia report that Australians are restricted from overseas travel or cruise ship holidays for at least three more months as the government extends the biosecurity ban imposed at the start of the pandemic.

The ban was due to expire on December 17, 2020, but today health Minister Greg Hunt said that the ban would be extended until at least March 17, 2021 as COVID-19 rages around the world. He stated that cruising during the pandemic provides an “unacceptable public health risk.”

Australia imposed a ban last March after the the Ruby Princess debacle, which resulted in 28 deaths and at least 854 cruise passengers contracting COVID-19.

The extension of the ban, ironically enough, comes as Australia reached a milestone today – with just one active locally acquired infection remaining nationwide. However, the government prudently focused on the international COVID situation which remains challenging and dangerous. “Australia won’t be fully safe until the international community is safe,” Mr. Hunt said.

Meanwhile in the U.S., there have been over 1,000,000 people infected with COVID-19 in just the first five days of December. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA and current member of the Royal Caribbean-NCL joint “Healthy Sail Panel,” predicts as many as nearly 4,000 COVID-related deaths per day in January 2021. He anticipates as many as 400,000 deaths by the end of January 2021. The CDC Director, Robert Redfield, predicts an even higher number of deaths, at 450,000 by February of 2021.

The U.S. has nearly 15,000,000 COVID-19 cases, the highest number in the world. Over 284,000 people in the U.S. have died. Tthere are well over 15,000,000 people in the world who have died due to COVID. Last month, under pressure from the White House and after extensive lobbying by the cruise industry’s trade group, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced a conditional sail order. I anticipate that the new administration will reconsider reinstating a “no-sail” order, possibly requiring all cruise travelers and crew members to be vaccinated before they can board a cruise ship at a port in the U.S.

CLIA-Australia lobbied unsuccessfully for Australia to lift the cruise travel ban. It proposed creating a so-called protective “bubble” with testing of all guests and crew, daily temperature checks, reduced ship occupancy and a 14-day post-cruise quarantine among other measures. Leading epidemiologists in Australia state that the safety measures would “reduce risk” but “not eliminate it completely.”

There are a number of cruise fans that seem nonplussed by the risks associated with cruise travel. A cruise travel agent in Sydney even started a petition to resume cruising in Australia.

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Photo credit: James D Morgan/Getty Images via the Guardian