Ship on cruise to nowhere returns to Singapore after passenger tests positive for COVID-19
ONBOARD QUANTUM OF THE SEAS — Royal Caribbean has cut short a cruise and returned to Singapore after an elderly passenger on board the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship tested positive for Covid-19.
In a statement on Wednesday (Dec 9), Mrs Annie Chang, director of cruise at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said the passenger is an 83-year-old Singaporean.
“The passenger had reported to the on-board medical center with diarrhoea, and underwent a mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test as part of on-board protocols.
“The passenger had taken a mandatory Covid-19 PCR test prior to boarding, and was tested negative,” added Mrs Chang.
The vessel, with 1,680 guests and 1,148 crew members on board, arrived in Singapore at 8am on Wednesday after turning back on day three of a four-day cruise to nowhere.
The ship has isolated all guests and crew who had close contact with the guest. All of them tested negative for the coronavirus.
Mrs Chang said that as part of safety protocols, the passenger was immediately isolated and his initial close contacts were identified and isolated as well.
“Those close contacts have since tested negative following PCR testing and further contact tracing is ongoing. All on-board leisure activities also ceased immediately and passengers were asked to stay in their cabins.”
The ship’s captain had confirmed the incident via an announcement at about 8.10am when the ship arrived in Singapore. “It’s important that you know that you are safe on board and we have a good plan in place to maintain your health, safety and comfort,” he said.
He had previously informed guests at about 2.45am that the ship would be returning early. He had also instructed all guests to remain in their cabins.
Mrs Chang said emergency response plans have been activated according to guidelines, including immediate isolation of close contacts, contact tracing and deep cleaning of the ship.
She added that all passengers had undergone a mandatory Covid-19 test prior to boarding, and stringent hygiene and safety measures were implemented throughout their journey.
Royal Caribbean last week resumed three- and four-night Ocean Getaway cruises as part of a safe cruising pilot programme announced in October by the STB. Cruises under the programme cater only to Singapore residents and do not have ports of call. The resumption of cruises are part of efforts to reboot the cruise industry, which has been largely on pause because of the pandemic.
Capacity on the Quantum of the Seas has been halved from more than 4,000 passengers.
Mr Ronald Tam, who is on the ship with his wife and three children, aged between two and eight years, said the situation is orderly.
“We have been told to remain in our rooms until we get further instructions. Hot breakfasts and water were delivered to all rooms,” added the 43-year-old. He said he was caught off guard by the announcement (of the early return to Singapore), which was made in the middle of the night.
“But then again, there are still likely to be a few Covid-19 cases circulating in the community, which is why maintaining safe management measures is necessary.
“It’s important for the protocols to be established ahead of time so they can act on them, as Royal Caribbean, STB and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have done thus far,” added Mr Tam.
In a health advisory issued to cruise passengers, MOH said the Covid-19 case’s contacts will be placed on quarantine or health surveillance. Other people on the ship will be required to monitor their health for 14 days from the date of disembarkation and undergo a swab test at the end of the monitoring period.
“During this period, you may continue with your usual activities, including going to work or school,” the MOH said.
Royal Caribbean will contact passengers from a week after disembarkation with the details of their swab appointment at a designated government swab site.
Ms Angie Stephen, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Royal Caribbean International, said the ship is finalising the contact tracing process, then it will get clearance from MOH to debark guests.
“Those who are not close contacts of the confirmed case will be allowed to debark and take a rapid antigen test as per original procedure. They can then go home and will be advised to monitor their health for the next 14 days.
“After that, all guests will take a polymerase chain reaction test with the expense borne by Royal Caribbean,” she added.
Secondary school student Kelis Lim, 15, is still on the ship with her parents as at 12pm. She said they had planned a family staycation at Fairmont Singapore from Friday but are cancelling the arrangement as they worry they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
“We are not close contacts of the Covid-19 case but just in case we are asymptomatic and found to have the virus, it’s better not to spread it to others,” she added.
Mr Mah Chin Heng, who is on the vessel with his wife and her parents, said the cruise has not been a waste of time. His in-laws, who are in their 60s, are celebrating their wedding anniversary on Wednesday.
“We were able to do all the activities we had planned for, such as rock climbing and watching the evening performance on board,” added the 42-year-old.
Meanwhile, Ms Michelle Goh has posted on Facebook updates of her experience on the cruise ship, to reassure family and friends.
She said staff have remained cool and cheery, adding that passengers are being looked after.
“People would have said things like ‘Who asked you to go, etc?’. I booked in full faith of what the authorities have planned and I am sure that they have done all that is needed before they gave the green light.”
Ms Goh said she is taking it as a “once in a lifetime experience”.
Royal Caribbean said the guest who tested positive for Covid-19 and other people in the travelling party will get a full refund.
For the other passengers, the cruise operator will offer a pro-rated cash refund for the day missed at sea, and any remaining on-board credits will be refunded to guests as well.
Additionally, the cruise operator will also provide a day’s worth of Future Cruise Credit for use on future trips.
The Quantum of the Seas has a hospital on board, complete with a PCR testing laboratory and intensive care units equipped with ventilators, where Covid-19 cases can be isolated and treated.
Pandemic safety measures include pre-boarding testing for passengers. Mask wearing is mandatory and passengers must have the Trace Together mobile application or token on their person at all times.
Meanwhile, passengers of Genting Cruise Lines’ World Dream were told early Wednesday that they will be allowed to disembark as scheduled the same day. The vessel, with capacity halved to 1,700, has arrived in Singapore after a three-night cruise to nowhere.
It is slated to leave later on Wednesday for another three-night cruise. At about 11am, passengers of this cruise, originally set to depart at 9pm, were told via text message that the World Dream is leaving at 6pm instead.
The World Dream’s safety regime includes a new real-time PCR machine on board that yields Covid-19 test results in 60 minutes. PCR tests are the most accurate ones for Covid-19 available.
There are also protocols to turn the 19-deck ship around in an outbreak. Sailing in the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea, the World Dream can return to Singapore shores in less than six hours, Genting Cruise Lines previously said.
This story is developing as correspondent Clara Lock reports on board the Quantum of the Seas cruise.
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