According to numerous news sources, Royal Caribbean’s  Quantum of the Seas has a COVID-19 case aboard the ship. The captain reportedly announced the news late last night (video below). The cruise ship ship is now returning to Singapore where the guests and crew will be quarantined.

The cruise was touted as allegedly creating a an anti-COVID “bubble” cruise from Singapore. A reporter from the New York Times reported on a similar cruise from Singapore which, like the Quantum of the Seas, did not call on any ports and operated at a fraction of the maximum quest capacity.  Singapore also requires passengers take a coronavirus test before boarding, which has been a major selling point for taking a cruise during this deadly pandemic.

The positive COVID case was first reported by Cruise Critic, which pointed out the obvious shortcomings with Royal Caribbean’s PCR tests which passengers were required to take within 48 to 72 hours before boarding, but not at dockside immediately before boarding.

The cruise line has been talking about its so-called “strict health and safety protocols” which  it developed with the Singapore Tourism Board. I have commented on the Royal Caribbean “Healthy Sail” protocols which I opined were destined to fail.

A newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times, reports that the Quantum will carry a maximum of up to 2,000 guests during the pandemic, half of its usual total capacity of slightly under 5,000 passengers. There were reportedly less than 2,000 guests aboard during this cruise. Mask wearing was mandatory on board the cruise ship and passengers were required to wear a mobile application tracing device with them at all times.

Cruise fans blog predictably down-played the COVID-19 case, which so far has involved only one guest, an 83 year-old man. The Royal Caribbean blog, for example, quickly published an article titled Royal Caribbean’s Enhanced Health Protocols Catch Positive COVID-19 Case on Cruise Ship. A common comment by people wanting to cruise during these dangerous times is this shows that “there are systems in place working to detect and manage outbreaks . . . ”

Royal Caribbean stated, in part:

“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.”

The last COVID-19 outbreak occurred several weeks ago on the SeaDream 1 ship which also promised a safe “bubble”  with multiple pre-boarding COVID tests, reduced capacity and temperature tests. That case involved a much smaller ship with only around 120 crew and guests. It was expected to be a watershed first cruise from the Caribbean since the pandemic shut cruising down last March. Initial reports were that a single guest had presumptively tested positive for COVID-19. Later it was confirmed that a total of nine people (7 guests and 2 crew members had been infected).

Unlike the U.S. and parts of Europe which are facing out of control COVID-19 cases, Singapore has few cases. (Cruises are open only to residents of Singapore). There have been 58,273 confirmed cases of COVID and 29 COVID-related death in the past nine months. There have been only 13 cases in the last day, 55 new cases in the last week and only 219 cases and one death in the last month, according to the Johns Hopkins’ data. Singapore has a population of around 5,400,000 people.

This is to be sharply contrasted with the COVID statistics in the U.S. where there are over 15,000,000 cases and over 280,000 deaths and there have been over 1,000,000 news cases in the first five days of December.

Check back tomorrow when we learn further information.

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Update: Royal Caribbean is quoted in Seatrade Cruise News as saying that the ship will “debark guests after a review of contact tracing is completed.” So no further testing or quarantine? A reader of our Facebook page commented: “Close contacts tested negative. That would be today. Try again in like a week and it might be different. Ship of fools.”

The Straits Times reports:

“In a health advisory issued to cruise passengers, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said the Covid-19 case’s contacts will be placed on quarantine or health surveillance. Other people on the ship will be required to monitor their health for 14 days from the date of disembarkation and undergo a swab test at the end of the monitoring period.

‘During this period, you may continue with your usual activities including going to work or school,’ the MOH said.

Royal Caribbean will contact passengers from a week after disembarkation with the details of their swab appointment at a designated government swab site, and MOH said it will bear the cost of those tests.

Ms. Angie Stephen, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Royal Caribbean International, said the ship is finalising the contact tracing process then it will get clearance from the MOH to debark guests.

‘Those who are not close contacts of the confirmed case will be allowed to debark and take a rapid antigen test as per original procedure. They can then go home and will be advised to monitor their health for the next 14 days. After that, all guests will take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test with the expense borne by Royal Caribbean,” she added.

The guest who tested positive for Covid-19 and other people in the travelling party will get a full refund. Royal Carribean will offer a pro-rated cash refund for the day missed at sea, and any remaining on board credits will be refunded to guests as well.

Additionally, the cruise operator will also provide a day’s worth of Future Cruise Credit for use on future trips.”

December 9, 2020 Update:

According to the Singapore government, the guests who tested positive for the virus “has since been re-tested at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), and has come back negative for COVID-19 infection. A second fresh sample tested by NPHL has also come back negative. NPHL will conduct another test tomorrow to confirm his COVID-19 status.”

The subsequent test results suggests that the first test may have been a false positive and his symptoms were merely coincidental. But the different tests results reinforces my belief that COVID tests results are not accurate or reliable enough to avoid either false positive or false negative results. The fact remains that cruise travel and the congregating of crowds in bars, restaurants, casinos, clubs and theaters on cruise ships should be avoided.

Photo credits: Quantum of the Seas – Frank Schwichtenberg – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; SeaDream 1 – The Points Guy/Handout via Reuters/New York Post; video – Straits Times.