A Royal Caribbean Cruises ship is back in Singapore on what was meant to be day three of a four-day cruise to nowhere after a positive Covid-19 case was identified on board early Wednesday.
About 2,000 passengers aboard the Quantum of the Seas vessel were informed of the development by the ship’s captain over the public announcement system at about 2:45 a.m. local time. The passenger who tested positive was isolated while officials traced their contacts.
Around 8 a.m., the captain told passengers that one passenger felt unwell and tested positive for Covid. All those found to have contact with the person have been tested and quarantined. Other passengers were told to stay in their staterooms. Once contact tracing has been completed, they will be allowed to disembark, but it’s unclear how long that will take. Passengers will also have to take a rapid Covid test to leave the ship.
“We know this isn’t exactly how you planned to spend your cruise, and we are terribly sorry,” a note sent to passengers on Wednesday read. “Again, this is for your benefit and to ensure all guests remain healthy and well.” The captain, in an announcement over the ship’s loudspeaker, said an update would be provided at 11 a.m.
The news is another set back 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 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.
Smoking, Free Phone Calls
It comes as other countries struggle to revive and reinvent their tourism sectors for the Covid 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%.
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 free phone service would be provided in order to help people adjust their travel plans. People are also being allowed to 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.
Five 1.5 liter bottles of water have been left outside staterooms and breakfast was delivered between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., according to a Bloomberg reporter who is on board. Passengers are being urged to be patient and wait for updates. Some that have rooms with balconies are standing outside to try to get better internet access.
“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 ($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.
–With assistance from Melissa Cheok.