Cruise to quarantine: Passengers isolated after COVID-19 case

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas was the firm’s first vessel to sail from Singapore since it halted operations in March due to the pandemic.

The latest development is a blow to Singapore's plans to revive its tourism industry that has been battered due to the coronavirus [Edgar Su/Reuters]

Some 2,000 passengers are quarantined in their cabins after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19 on board Royal Caribbean cruise ship Quantum of the Seas, which has returned to dock in Singapore on Wednesday.

Singapore has been piloting “cruise to nowhere” trips – which are open only to residents, make no stops and sail just off the city-state – as part of plans to revive its tourism industry that has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic

The global cruise industry has also 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 Princess Cruises’ ship, the Diamond Princess, with more than 700 guests and crew picking up the virus.

“A guest was feeling unwell and tested positive for COVID-19… We are asking all guests to remain in their staterooms to prevent the spread of illness,” the captain of the Quantum of the Seas told passengers in a video shared on social media.

“We kindly ask all guests with urgent medical or health situations like diabetes, heart disease etc to contact guest services,” he said, adding that the ship had returned to Singapore a day before the end of its planned four-day trip.

‘Battered industry’

Confirming the positive test, Royal Caribbean said in a statement that all passengers and crew who had been in close contact with the infected guest subsequently tested negative for the virus.

“Emergency response plans have been activated according to guidelines, including immediate isolation of close contacts, contact tracing and deep-cleaning of the ship,” said Annie Chang, director of the cruise policy group at the Singapore Tourism Board.

Passengers will be able to disembark and medical support will be provided if necessary, she added.

Royal Caribbean began “cruises-to-nowhere” from Singapore last week, marking the company’s first sailing since it halted its global operations in March due to the pandemic, which has infected more than 68 million people globally and killed more than 1.5 million​.

An aerial view shows Italian cruise ship Costa Atlantica in Nagasaki, Japan
The cruise industry has taken a major hit since the pandemic began this year [File: Kyodo via Reuters]

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

The case on board is another setback for Singapore after a plan to open a quarantine-free air travel bubble with Hong Kong last month was postponed at the last minute when COVID-19 cases escalated in Hong Kong.

Part of the precautions for the resumption of cruises in Singapore involves pre-departure testing and for guests to carry an electronic contact-tracing device and to physically distance at all times.

The patient’s close contacts will be placed in quarantine or health surveillance, the Straits Times newspaper reported citing an advisory from the health ministry.

Others will need to monitor their health while continuing regular activities, including going to school or work, and undergo a swab test at the end of a 14-day monitoring period.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters