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Norwegian cruises ends COVID-19 vaccination requirement, loosens testing rules

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Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will no longer require customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and will loosen its testing rules beginning in September, the company announced Monday.

Beginning on Sept. 3, vaccinated guests aged 12 and older will no longer have to abide by any pre-cruise COVID-19 related protocols. Unvaccinated guests will be permitted to embark once they have provided a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure, the company said.

Children under 12 will have no testing or vaccination requirements.

“Our long-awaited revisions to our testing and vaccination requirements bring us closer in line with the rest of society, which has learned to adapt and live with COVID-19, and makes it simpler and easier for our loyal guests to cruise on our three best-in-class brands," Norwegian president and CEO Frank Del Rio said in a statement.

"Health and safety is our top priority and we will continue to modify our robust SailSAFE program as the public health environment evolves. The relaxation of protocols coupled with continued easing of travel restrictions and the reopening to cruise in more ports around the globe are meaningfully positive for our business as it reduces friction, expands the addressable cruise market, brings variety to itineraries and provides additional catalysts on the road to recovery,” Del Rio added.

Norwegian's current "Sail Safe" protocols require all customers 12 and older, as well as crew, to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure in order to board the ship. Children under age 12 who are unvaccinated are permitted to board, but remain subject to local protocols or travel restrictions at the visiting destinations at time of sailing.

The company's decision to loosen COVID-19 travel requirements comes as competing cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have also announced changes to their health and safety protocols.

Carnival Cruise Line said last month it will no longer require pre-cruise testing for vaccinated guests on voyages that are five nights or fewer. Royal Caribbean likewise dropped its testing requirement for vaccinated guests on certain voyages.

However, Norwegian is the first cruise line to drop its vaccine requirement.

On July 18, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended its COVID-19 program for U.S. cruise ships, issuing new guidance days later advising companies to determine their own health and safety standards. The CDC continues to recommend that all individuals get tested for COVID-19 no more than three days before a cruise, regardless of vaccination status.

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