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Norwegian Cruise Line dropped its pre-boarding COVID-19 testing requirement on Wednesday in a major shift for the cruise industry more than two years after the vacation travel companies began wrestling with coronavirus outbreaks and new policies to keep guests safe.
In a news release, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said starting on Aug. 1 guests will no longer have to test for the novel coronavirus before boarding unless required by local regulations. The updated guidelines cover Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The company still requires guests ages 12 and older to be vaccinated at least two weeks before boarding.
Norwegian officials nodded toward the fact that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have mostly dropped worldwide and vaccines are more widely available, especially in the U.S., where anyone ages six months or older can get inoculated against the virus.
The company said the “relaxation of the testing policy is in line with the rest of the travel, leisure and hospitality industry worldwide as society continues to adapt and return to a state of normalcy.”
Major cruise destinations, including the U.S., Canada, Greece and Bermuda, still require pre-boarding test requirements. Norwegian will not require the tests in those countries if health officials decide to drop it.
The company follows Viking Cruises, which dropped its pre-boarding COVID-19 testing requirement in June.
Cruise ships became a source of fear during the pandemic after a huge outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February 2020, a month before the U.S. would shut down businesses and events because of the virus. Princess Cruises had to quarantine residents on board as hundreds fell sick or tested positive.
Other ships and cruise lines also struggled with outbreaks during several periods of the pandemic before vaccines were widely available.
In the U.S., several restrictions and forced delays were placed on cruise ships over the past two years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans to stay away from the cruise liners because they carried an elevated risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
In March, the CDC lifted its travel warning for cruise ships as cases and hospitalization rates declined. The CDC will continue to publish a color-coded system to indicate a risk level on certain ships, but only for companies that opt into a tracking system.