Passengers stuck on Singapore cruise ship after Covid-19 case

A man is seen on a balcony onboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Quantum of the Seas, currently docked at Marina Bay Cruise Centre, in Singapore on December 9, 2020. - AFP

SINGAPORE (Bloomberg): A Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd ship is back in Singapore and those on board are confined to their cabins after a positive Covid-19 case was identified, cutting short what was meant to be a four-day cruise to nowhere.

About 2,000 passengers on the Quantum of the Seas vessel are stuck in their staterooms after being informed of the development by the ship’s captain over the public announcement system at around 2.45am local time on Wednesday (Dec 9).

The elderly male passenger who tested positive has been isolated while officials are tracing his contacts.

An update from the captain around 3pm advised that passengers would need to wait until passengers on another cruise to nowhere -- Genting’s World Dream -- had disembarked, according to a Bloomberg reporter who is on board.

The captain said the Covid-19 patient in question had left the ship and a full sanitisation would shortly be underway. Dinner will be served around 6pm and another update provided in around four hours.

“Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas arrived at Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore at 8am today after a 83-year-old passenger tested positive for Covid-19, ” said Annie Chang, cruise director at the Singapore Tourism Board.

“The passenger had reported to the onboard medical centre with diarrhoea, and underwent a mandatory polymerase chain reaction test as part of the onboard protocols.”

The passenger had taken the same test prior to boarding and that was negative.

Those onboard the ship have been told that once contact tracing is complete, they will be allowed to disembark, but it’s unclear how long that will take.

Passengers will also have to take a rapid Covid-19 test to leave the ship. Free Wifi and phone calls are being provided to help people make alternative travel plans and other arrangements.

“We know this isn’t exactly how you planned to spend your cruise, and we are terribly sorry, ” a note sent to passengers earlier on Wednesday read.

“Again, this is for your benefit and to ensure all guests remain healthy and well.” Another update is expected around 3pm

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the case onboard was “not unexpected, ” according to a ChannelNewsAsia report, and that the government was prepared for such a situation to occur.

The news is another setback for Singapore, a tiny island nation whose economy relies heavily on the tourist dollar. Just last month a highly anticipated air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong that would have replaced quarantine with Covid-19 testing was scrapped due to rising case numbers in Hong Kong.

Royal Caribbean International and Genting Cruise Lines have been running cruises to nowhere -- voyages that depart and arrive back in the same destination after a stint sailing around offshore -- as the city state aims to bolster its tourism sector and give residents an outlet for their wanderlust.

The positive case is a blow to that push, with reporters invited on board the Quantum of the Seas to experience the new initiative.

It comes as other countries struggle to revive and reinvent their tourism sectors for the Covid-19 era.

Japan has had to rein in an initiative that encouraged residents to travel domestically after tourist areas saw an uptick in virus infections. In Europe, the resumption of vacation travel in summer is thought to have fanned the current second wave.

Stringent protocols for cruise operators and passengers to permit the Singapore pilot voyages were established. These included testing of crew and passengers, increased sanitization and fresh air circulation measures. Cruises were also required to sail at a reduced passenger capacity of 50 percent.

Ultimately, those proved insufficient to combat a virus that’s now infected more than 68 million people globally and taken the lives of almost 1.6 million.

Royal Caribbean in its note to passengers said that people can smoke in their bathrooms, even though this is normally prohibited. The cruise, almost at full capacity, has a large number of families on board with small children.

“All impacted guests will receive a refund in the form of an onboard credit for the day missed, ” Royal Caribbean said in its note to guests.

“Additionally, we will provide you with a future cruise credit for the value of one day’s worth of cruise fare paid to be used on a future sailing. We are dedicated to maintaining your well-being and making the next few days relaxing and enjoyable.”

Those who had booked on another cruise that was to depart Thursday can cancel and will receive a refund credit.

With international travel all but off limits, Singapore has been trying to come up with ways to stimulate its domestic economy.

On offer are daycations at hotels plus luxury overnight camping at Changi Airport, and the government has launched a domestic tourism campaign, with S$320 million (US$240 million) in credits set aside to encourage residents to support local businesses.

The S$100 vouchers, which have been sent to all Singaporeans aged 18 and above, can be used for attractions, hotel stays and tours.

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