After last week’s scare of a potential case of COVID-19 aboard halted a cruise a day early, Singapore has permitted Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas cruise ship to resume service. Reporting that it was satisfied that the health and safety protocols had been followed and worked as planned, the authorities permitted the cruise ship to depart today on its next cruise to nowhere.
After the cruise ship reported the suspected case of the virus, the Quantum of the Seas immediately implemented the protocols asking all passengers to return to their cabins. The know close contacts of the passenger were also immediately placed in isolation while the ship suspended the cruise and returned to Singapore. Aboard they also began a broader contract tracing program to identify passengers and crew that might have been in contact with the suspected case of the virus.
Singapore has in place a robust tracing program that uses cell phone-based technology. Also, passengers are being given a personal device that traces their movements and contracts around the vessel.
While the ship was back at the dock, the passengers and crew except for essential workers were asked to continue to remain aboard and in their cabins. At the same time and while the tracing program was ongoing, the passenger with the suspected case of the virus went to a Singapore hospital where the 83-year old male were retested. Two tests were negative and a third negative test was also completed the following day.
The positive test conducted aboard the cruise ship highlighted one of the challenges of maintaining the pilot cruise program and handling the virus. The testing units available for the ships are more susceptible to inaccurate results versus those available onshore. The Quantum of the Seas became only the latest example of several instances where inaccurate results caused a problem.
At the time of the incident, the Quantum of the Seas had 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew on board. Before boarding the cruise there are pre-boarding tests for passengers and aboard the ship precautionary measures are required, including reduced sailing capacity and strict safe distancing measures. Crew members are living basically in a bubble during the entire pilot program.
“Safety remains our foremost priority, and yesterday’s incident has given us valuable learnings for future sailings, such as the importance of using TraceTogether for effective contact tracing. It has also given assurance that our established response to any future COVID-19 case is swift and effective,” said STB’s Chief Executive Keith Tan. “In particular, I would like to commend Royal Caribbean International and the terminal operator SATS-Creuers for the timely execution of their emergency protocols. I would also like to thank Genting Cruise Lines, who supported the operations by embarking their passengers early. Their professionalism gives us confidence that our pilot cruises will continue to be safe and sustainable, as we work with our partners and cruise lines to chart a new course for safe cruising.”
Passengers and crew were aboard the Quantum of the Seas remained aboard until the contact tracing was completed, and disembarkation began at 7:30 pm that same evening. Genting Cruise Lines’ World Dream, which was also at the cruise terminal assisted by departing early so that there would be no crowding or intermingling between passengers and crew from the two ships in the terminal.
Singapore felt confident in permitting cruises to resume for its residents based on its overall success at mitigation of the virus. The city-state is regularly reporting no local transmission and limited overall cases. The government said before beginning the cruises that it would monitor for adherence to the protocols and would immediately suspend a ship’s permission to cruise if there were any concerns. They said they will continue to monitor these cruises, which they view as a pilot program, and hopefully similar to the land restrictions will be able to gradually ease the limitations for the cruise industry in the future. Today, Singapore announced it would be further reducing restrictions in the city permitting slightly larger gathering and a few additional activities.
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