Singapore cruise passengers caught in rooms following Reuters’ COVID-19 case

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© Reuters. Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas cruise ship docks at Marina Bay Cruise Center after a passenger tests positive for COVID-19 while cruising to nowhere

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By Chen Lin and Yi Shu Ng

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Almost 1,700 passengers on one royal caribbean (NYSE 🙂 Singapore’s ‘Cruise-to-Nowhere’ remained locked in their cabins for more than 14 hours on Wednesday after a COVID-19 case was discovered on board that forced the ship back into port.

All passengers on board the Quantum (NASDAQ 🙂 of the Seas ship had passed a mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the virus up to three days before the start of the four-day cruise on Monday.

Authorities said the patient’s close contacts among the 1,680 guests and 1,148 crew members on board have so far tested negative and that all passengers must be isolated in their rooms as the contact tracing continued Wednesday afternoon.

The patient, an 83-year-old male, had reported to the ship’s medical center with diarrhea and a subsequent test on board revealed the infection. He was rushed to hospital on Wednesday after the ship returned to port.

Other guests, who the authorities claim could leave the ship on Wednesday evening, were woken up in the early hours of the morning to the news of the infection.

“I thought, ‘There it is, the worst fear has happened,” said passenger Melvin Chew, a 31-year-old business development manager, who learned of the infected guest through an announcement on the ship’s tannoy around 3 a.m. GMT Tuesday).

The Quantum of the Seas returned to Singapore at 8:00 a.m. local time (0000 GMT), and passengers were still being asked to isolate themselves in their cabins from 5:00 p.m. All passengers undergo a mandatory COVID-19 test before leaving the terminal.

The patient, wearing a full-length white protective suit, was escorted down the ship’s gangway to a waiting ambulance shortly after 2 p.m.

Shortly afterwards, the ship’s captain informed the passengers via the Tannoy that the ship would be thoroughly cleaned and that another update would take place around 7 p.m.

“We understand you did not want to spend your cruise like this and ladies and gentlemen, I am terribly sorry,” said the captain on a recording heard by Reuters.

“REALITY CHECK”

Royal Caribbean’s “Cruise to Nowhere” is one of the first departures since the company ceased operations worldwide in March due to the coronavirus.

Sailing in waters off Singapore is only open to Singapore residents and does not make any stopovers.

The cruises are part of Singapore’s plans to revitalize the tourism industry, which has been affected by the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 67.7 million people and killed 1,548,575 people worldwide.

Singapore, which has had just over 58,000 cases and 29 deaths, has reported fewer than a handful of daily infections in the past few weeks.

Precautions for resuming cruises in Singapore included testing before departure within 48-72 hours of boarding and wearing an electronic contact tracing device, wearing masks and social distance at all times.

“I really don’t know how the patient came up with this,” said another passenger, Muhammad Rezal Ramli, 40, who was on the cruise with his two young children.

Infectious disease experts said there could be many reasons the patient underwent preventive medical checkups before leaving.

They said the PCR test may have been false negative or failed to pick up fragments of an old virus, or the patient was incubating or infected between the test and boarding at this point.

“It is a reality check that the current tests are not perfect,” said Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia Pacific Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

The close contacts of the infected case will be placed in quarantine or health surveillance, said the Singapore Ministry of Health in an opinion sent to the passengers.

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

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