With additional reporting from Rebecca Rachel Wong in Singapore
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has to return to Singapore on day three of what should have been a four-day cruise after a positive COVID case was identified.
The positive case was suspected after an 83-year-old male passenger presented to the medical staff feeling unwell and was confirmed positive in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
With 1,680 guests and 1,148 crew on board, Quantum arrived in Singapore at 8am local time. Passengers were informed of the development by the ship’s captain over the public announcement system at about 2:45 a.m. local time.
“We know this isn’t exactly how you planned to spend your cruise, and we are terribly sorry,” said a note sent to passengers.
“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 am.
The passenger who tested positive is in isolation while officials trace contacts. All those found to have contact with the person have been also been tested and quarantined.
All other passengers are required to remain inside their staterooms until contract tracing is complete at which time they can disembark the vessel. It is unclear how long this process will take.
Passengers will also have to take a rapid COVID test to leave the ship.
In a statement, Royal Caribbean has said:
“The ship is returning to port today in accordance with government protocols, and will debark guests after a review of contact tracing is completed.
“We are in communication with the Singapore government, and appreciate their guidance as we work together to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew.
“We worked closely with the government to develop a thorough system that tests and monitors all guests and crew and follows public health best practices. That we were able to quickly identify this single case and take immediate action is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to do”.
According to Ms Annie Chang, director of cruise at the Singapore Tourism Board, the passenger reported to the ship’s medical centre with diarrhoea. He then underwent a mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test as part of on board protocols.
He had also taken a mandatory COVID-19 PCR test prior to boarding, and tested negative.
At present, passengers are being given regular updates on the evolving situation, with meals and beverages provided directly to their staterooms.
According to Ms Angie Stephen, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Royal Caribbean International, the ship is still finalising its contact tracing process.
Once clearance is given by Singapore’s Ministry of Health, passengers will be permitted to disembark.
“Those who are not close contacts of the confirmed case will be allowed to debark and take a rapid antigen test (at Marina Bay Cruise Terminal) as per original procedure,” said Stephen in a statement. “They can then go home and will be advised to monitor their health for the next 14 days.”
At the end of the monitoring period, guests will take another PCR test, with expenses borne by Royal Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean will then contact passengers from a week after disembarkation, with details of their swab appointment at a designated government swab site.
As for the passenger who tested positive for COVID-19, he and his travel party will receive a full refund for their voyage.
For other guests, Royal Caribbean will be offering a pro-rated cash refund for the day missed at sea, with all remaining on board credits refunded to them. The cruise line will also be providing a day’s worth of Future Cruise Credit, which guests may use on subsequent voyages.
The news has left some who are booked on upcoming Royal Caribbean voyages disappointed, and anxious to know if their sailings will be cancelled.
Jessica Wong, 28, is booked on an upcoming 3-night voyage on Quantum, leaving December 14.
Upon receiving the news of the confirmed COVID case, Wong says she is hesitant to continue with her sailing, even if Royal Caribbean decides to proceed with it.
“I’m extremely disappointed to hear this news as we think that Royal Caribbean’s policies played a part in this,” she says. “Although they chose the more accurate PCR test pre-boarding (as compared to the antigen test), there is a 48-hour window between the PCR swab test and boarding.”
She continues, “Unlike Dream Cruises, Royal did not do an antigen test right before boarding. As such, passengers can still catch the virus after undergoing the PCR test, and it would be undetected.”
Ms Wong maintains that if Royal does not improve their pre-boarding testing process, she will not be continuing with her sailing.
In contrast, Goh Mei Hui, 27, still maintains faith in Royal’s health and safety protocols. Goh is also booked on the upcoming December 14 sailing out of Singapore
She tells Cruise Passenger that she will still be embarking on her upcoming sailing if it does not get suspended.
“Even though there was a positive case on board, we shouldn’t just focus on that, “she says. “It could have happened anywhere, and what’s more important is Royal’s measures when they detected the case. The fact that they were able to detect it could also be due to the temperature taking at different points on the ship and regular reminders to guests.”
She added that right after the positive case was detected, Royal Caribbean was quick to isolate guests and close contacts, with all other guests quarantined within their rooms.
As she notes, everything was carried out swiftly and systematically, with updates given to guests to keep them in the know. This has given her assurance that Royal is quick to act in the event of an emergency.
However, Goh also echoes Wong’s sentiments that an antigen test should be carried out on the day of boarding itself.
“Anything can happen between the window period after the PCR test, especially if passengers come into contact with other COVID-19 carriers in the community,” she says.