SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): More than half of the 1, 646 passengers on board the Dream Cruises ship World Dream - who had been ordered to stay in their rooms since 1am on Wednesday (July 14) due to a Covid-19 case on board - disembarked by 10.15pm that night.
This marks the beginning of the end of a 20-hour period of uncertainty, during which meals were delivered to their rooms and the ship provided complimentary Wi-Fi.
The first passenger was seen walking across the gangplank from the ship to the cruise centre at 8.56pm - 12 hours after the cruise was initially slated to end at 9am.
Many more, carrying large bags or towing their luggage, followed, and began streaming into the Marina Bay Cruise Centre to take their mandatory antigen rapid test for Covid-19.
They need not wait for the results before they leave, and have been told to go straight home. The 1, 249 crew members will remain on board.
For some passengers, however, it is not over yet. A currently unknown number of passengers have been told to stay on board to await quarantine due to their having come into close contact with the Covid-19-positive patient.
The Straits Times understands that they will be taken to dedicated hotels.
Earlier, a notice from the Ministry of Health (MOH) to all passengers, seen by ST, said Dream Cruises will contact them a week from now with details of when and where they will be next swabbed after a 14-day monitoring period.
The costs of the swabs will be borne by MOH. Passengers are to monitor their own health in the interim, although, "during this period, you may continue with your usual activities including going to work or school", the notice said.
Marcus The, a worker in the healthcare sector who was on the trip with a friend, said he went through at least two temperature scanners on the cruise before he disembarked.
The 28-year-old stayed in a suite on the cruise, and was notified by a butler on when to disembark. "It was unexpected, but it was not unpleasant, " he said. "It was not really much of an inconvenience so I would definitely cruise again."
Meanwhile, retiree Pishu Wadhwani, 73, said he spent his time in his room watching movies and sleeping. Dream Cruises had provided additional movies to watch, making the wait more bearable.
It took him just 15 minutes to go from his cabin to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre and leave, including the taking of the antigen rapid test.
Another couple, housewife Sadiya Umm, 43, and IT professional Mueez Pasha, 52, spent their wait alternately watching movies and sitting on the balcony watching the sea.
As part of the ship's ongoing safety and precautionary measures, all onboard public areas are undergoing cleaning and disinfection at a higher frequency using hospital-grade disinfectant.
A 40-year-old passenger had tested positive for Covid-19 while on board early on Wednesday morning, putting a stop to safe-distanced leisurely activities on the cruise, a development that was made known to passengers in an announcement broadcast at 1am.
The diagnosis forced the four-day, three-night cruise to nowhere to return to shore early, with those on board told to return to their cabins and movement within the ship restricted to essential service crew with personal protective equipment.
The 40-year-old has been tied to a growing cluster that has been linked to KTV outlets and nightclubs, which surfaced 42 new cases on Wednesday. These new cases take the KTV lounge cluster to 54 people, making it one of Singapore's largest active clusters.
In a previous statement, Dream Cruises had said that the passenger's close travelling companions had been isolated on board and subsequently tested negative for Covid-19. Its contact tracing system, including closed-circuit television footage and keycards, also led to it identifying other close contacts of the Covid-19 positive guest within an hour.
It has since cancelled a subsequent two-night cruise that was to depart on Wednesday night at 9pm. Affected passengers can choose to transfer to other cruise dates, opt for a future cruise credit or obtain a full refund.
This is not the first time a cruise has had to turn back due to a passenger testing positive for Covid-19 on board.
Last December, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was also forced to return early after an elderly man tested positive for the coronavirus. Subsequent tests found it to be a false positive.
The 40-year-old World Dream passenger, who has since been taken to hospital in a separate route and gangway, has been confirmed to be a coronavirus patient. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network