COVID-19 scare on cruise ship a false alarm, Singapore says

Passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 aboard a ‘cruise-to-nowhere’ has been found not to have the virus.

Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas cruise ship is moored at Marina Bay Cruise Center after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19 [Edgar Su/Reuters]

A passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 aboard a “cruise-to-nowhere” from Singapore, forcing the ship to return to the dock and nearly 1,700 guests to isolate, has been found not to have the virus.

Passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas vessel were held in their cabins for more than 16 hours on Wednesday after an 83-year-old man, who sought medical help on the ship for diarrhoea, tested positive for COVID-19.

When the ship returned to port on Wednesday, the passenger was taken to hospital where he took two further tests which did not reveal the infection.

A third negative test on Thursday led authorities to declare him virus-free.

“A final confirmatory test … has confirmed that the 83-year-old male Singaporean … does not have COVID-19 infection,” Singapore’s health ministry said on Thursday, adding it would help review testing processes on board the ship.

All guests and crew that had come into close contact with the patient would no longer have to quarantine as previously instructed, the ministry said.

Royal Caribbean said in a statement it welcomed the news and that it would continue to work with the government to “refine” its protocols.

The global cruise industry has taken a major hit from the pandemic, with some of the earliest big outbreaks found on cruise ships.

In February, off the coast of Japan, passengers were stuck for weeks on the Diamond Princess, with more than 700 guests and crew picking up the virus.

New precautions involve pre-departure testing and requirements that guests carry an electronic contact-tracing device, wear masks and socially distance at all times.

Authorities said the incident was a learning experience and validation of the safety protocols in place.

“Yesterday’s incident has given us valuable learnings for future sailings … it has also given assurance that our established response to any future COVID-19 case is swift and effective,” said tourism board chief Keith Tan.

Singapore, which has had more than 58,000 cases and 29 deaths, has been reporting fewer than a handful of local infections in recent weeks.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies