After more than a year of forcing cruise ship operators to remain in port, and facing a lawsuit from the state of Florida over its "arbitrary and capricious" decision not to lift its conditional sail order, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control told cruise lines Wednesday evening they could begin sailing again by mid-July under a new set of relaxed guidelines.

The Wall Street Journal reports the agency will allow voyages to begin so long as the operators attest at least 98% of their crew and 95% of their passengers have been vaccinated.

Two couples on a cruise ship

Image source: Getty Images.

The decision was a long time coming. Forced to shut down last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry lost billions of dollars and the largest operators including Carnival (NYSE:CCL)(NYSE:CUK), Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NYSE:NCLH), and Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) took on billions of dollars more in debt to remain afloat.

Yet when other industries were allowed to reopen, the CDC refused to let cruise ships sail due to fear the close-quarter nature of cruise ships would result in a spike of infections.

But even after the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, new case rates plummeting, and many international ports of call reopening, the CDC did not modify its stance. Now, however, passengers can take a rapid test for COVID-19 upon embarkation and can quarantine at home if they are within driving distance.

While the CDC must still approve each operator's safety plan, the agency says it should only take five days for it to review them. Cruise lines must also sign agreements with ports, but the CDC expects it to be an expedited process since all ports and health authorities have signed off on the plan, giving these leisure companies hope they can generate revenue once more.

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