Norwegian Plans to Lift Indoor Masking Requirements
Norwegian Cruise Line has announced plans to drop onboard masking requirements, marking a turning point after the Omicron variant surge of COVID-19 cases.
Norwegian has announced that as of March 1, face coverings will no longer be required while onboard. Its cruises will continue to operate with 100 percent vaccination of crew and guests aged five and over. “The decision to wear a mask covering when onboard is at the discretion of each guest,” said the cruise line in a notice.
Though guests will not be required to wear face masks, Norwegian added that it still recognizes the added protection of masking and recommends that guests wear masks in indoor public areas. Mask coverings are also recommended outdoors whenever physical distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained.
However, the new rules will not apply for European sailings, where governments have imposed stricter COVID-19 protocols. “[On European cruises] local government regulations require all guests to wear masks onboard while indoors except for when actively eating or drinking or when in their stateroom. Guests will be required to wear masks outdoors when social distancing is not possible,” said the cruise line.
Parent Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) said the outlook for cruise bookings is bullish and could return to pre-COVID levels as soon as next year. In recent weeks, net booking volumes have continued to improve sequentially, the company said.
Although Norwegian's bookings for the first half of this year are below 2019 levels due to Omicron, the company expects they will exceed 2019 levels in the second half when its full fleet is back in operation. Currently only 16 of the company’s 28 ships - or 70 percent of its berth capacity of 60,000 - are operating with guests on board.
“We expect to have approximately 85 percent of berth capacity operating by the end of the first quarter of 2022 with the full fleet expected to be back in operation during the early part of the second quarter of 2022,” said NCLH in a business update.
NCLH projects to post a net loss for the fourth quarter and full year ending December 31, 2021. However, it sees a light at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel. “Despite the impact of the Omicron variant on the booking environment, and based on our current projections and market and public health conditions, we expect to have positive adjusted net income for the second half of 2022,” note the company.
COVID-19's negative impacts have seen NCLH and its competitors take on more debt. As of September 30, 2021, the company’s total debt was $12.4 billion, while its liquidity stood at $1.9 billion.