A Singapore-based cruise ship was forced to return to port after one of its passengers tested positive for Covid-19 on board on Wednesday forcing the ship’s nearly 3,000 occupants to confine themselves to their cabins, in the latest Covid outbreak scare onboard the vessels that have been described by some as a petri dish for the virus.
The 40-year-old passenger on board the Genting Cruise lines ship was forced to isolate after he was identified as a close contact of a confirmed case on land and his sample has been sent to a hospital for further testing, the Singapore Tourism Board said.
The passenger was fully vaccinated and had tested negative in a rapid antigen test before boarding, but those tests are considered less reliable than nasal swab tests or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests.
The ship has 1,646 passengers and 1,249 crew members on board and all of them are required to quarantine in their rooms with contactless meals being delivered to them for the time being.
According to Channel News Asia (CNA), all of the case’s close contacts will be issued quarantine orders and the rest of the passengers will need to take a rapid antigen test before they can leave the dock.
The passengers will be required to monitor their health for 14 days after disembarking the ship and then be required to take a nasal swab test at a designated government facility at the end of that period.
With cruise businesses being severely hit by the pandemic and Singapore having relatively few domestic Covid-19 cases, the country launched so-called “cruises to nowhere,” last year. These cruises, open strictly to residents of Singapore, sail around for a few days with passengers on board and then return to their port of origin. According to Reuters, they have been popular with locals who have been starving for a chance to travel.
“I think we were in a bit of a shock at first because we didn’t expect our cruise to be a part of…any COVID-19 cluster whatsoever if, let’s say, it’s going to grow into a cluster,” Janine Marie Tan, a passenger on board the ship, told CNA. “It’s not really that bad, it’s more of a bit of a disruption of plans, if we had any, for Wednesday.”
The cruising industry has been severely impacted by Covid-19 after large outbreaks inside ships early during the pandemic sparked concerns of global spread and forced most lines to suspend operations. The ships, with their enclosed spaces, common passenger areas, and centralized air conditioning systems were seen as a major vector of Covid transmission. According to data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100 cruise ships in the U.S. reported a Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, resulting in at least 3,000 people getting infected. The rollout of vaccines has led to the resumption of cruises in some parts of the world but this has led to new outbreaks. Last month, two passengers onboard Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Millennium ship tested positive for Covid-19, while eight crew members from the same company’s Odyssey of the Seas cruise ship, who weren’t fully vaccinated, also tested positive. In December, passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas vessel in Singapore were forced to stay in their cabins for more than 16 hours after a suspected COVID-19 case on board. The passenger eventually tested negative after the ship returned to Singapore.