Royal Caribbean ‘cruise to nowhere’ returns early to Singapore

A man sits on the balcony of Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas cruise ship docked at Marina Bay Cruise Center in Singapore on November 6, 2020.

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SINGAPORE – A passenger aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship tested positive for Covid-19 and forced the ship to return to port early.

The cruise ship Quantum of the Seas Set sail from Singapore on a “cruise to nowhere” – a concept tested in the city-state that allows cruise lines to make round-trip flights to Singapore without a stopover.

The program is only available to residents of Singapore and ships are only allowed to carry 50% of their total passenger capacity.

“A guest aboard Quantum of the Seas tested positive for coronavirus after checking in with our medical team,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement. Guests and crew members who came into close contact with the infected passenger have been identified and isolated – they have all tested negative so far, the cruise operator said.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said the 83-year-old passenger tested positive for Covid-19 after reporting to the ship’s medical center with diarrhea and had a mandatory Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test according to the protocol run through. The passenger had tested negative for the disease before boarding.

PCR tests have been widely used to detect cases because they are accurate in their diagnosis, but it takes hours for results to return.

Royal Caribbean announced to CNBC that the ship has already returned to Singapore and is currently docked at the Marina Bay Cruise Center. However, the company didn’t respond to CNBC’s question about how many passengers were on board and whether the incident would affect future sailing plans.

“As part of the protocols for a positive test during a cruise, the passenger was immediately isolated and their first close contacts were identified and isolated,” Annie Chang, director of cruises for the Singapore Tourism Board, said in a statement.

“These close contacts have since tested negative after PCR testing and follow-up is ongoing. All recreational activities on board were also immediately stopped and passengers were asked to stay in their cabins,” she said.

The remaining passengers and crew will remain in their rooms on board until the contact tracing is complete, Chang added. “They will all undergo mandatory tests (Covid-19) prior to leaving the terminal in accordance with regular post-arrival protocols.”

Quantum of the Seas can carry up to 4,905 passengers and around 1,500 crew members at full capacity. Royal Caribbean said the ships have medical centers on board that are capable of performing on-site tests for Covid-19, isolating positive cases, and providing critical care if necessary.

The coronavirus pandemic hit the travel and tourism industries, including the cruise industry, this year.

Singapore’s “Cruise to Nowhere” program is an attempt to increase demand for travel amid the pandemic. In order to participate, cruise lines must obtain a mandatory safety certification and undergo an audit before they can begin sailing.

Royal Caribbean and Genting Cruise Lines are currently sailing from Singapore under this program.

Daily infections in the city-state have largely remained under control, and Singapore has not reported any new local transmissions since December 5. So far there have been 58,285 cases of Covid-19 and 29 deaths in the country.

The Department of Health referred CNBC for inquiries to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

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