One passenger on a so-called “cruise to nowhere” in Singapore has tested positive for covid-19, just a week after Royal Caribbean cruises began operating again in the region during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Strait Times. All 2,800 people aboard the Quantum of the Seas ship, which set sail on Dec. 3, have been forced to quarantine in their cabins.
The ship, which has 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew members, returned to Singapore on Wednesday morning to allow the 83-year-old passenger who tested positive to be transferred to the hospital. The elderly passenger was tested for coronavirus on the ship after experiencing diarrhea.
The remaining passengers on Quantum of the Seas will have to stay on board until contact tracing has been completed, though it’s not immediately clear how long that might take. All passengers who are deemed close contacts will eventually be sent to a government quarantine facility even if they test negative for the coronavirus.
“Those close contacts have since tested negative following PCR testing and further contact tracing is ongoing. All on-board leisure activities also ceased immediately and passengers were asked to stay in their cabins,” a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean told the Strait Times.
Passengers and crew who boarded the Quantum of the Seas ship tested negative for the virus before their trip, but the incubation period for the new coronavirus can be as long as 14 days, meaning that someone can test negative for the virus during a roughly two week window, despite having been previously infected. The average incubation period is about 5-7 days. And that’s precisely why Americans were encouraged to stay home for Thanksgiving and not see family members, even if they got tested before they traveled for the holiday. A negative test doesn’t mean you can’t test positive within a relatively short period of time.
Royal Caribbean touts its adherence to social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing for all people on board the cruise, along with a contact-tracing app that’s mandatory for everyone. This particular trip was only for Singaporean nationals and Singapore has done relatively well at controlling the spread of the virus, though the country has faced criticism that so many positive cases have occurred in foreign workers living in cramped conditions.
Singapore reported just six new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, not including the 83-year-old man who tested positive on the cruise. The elderly man is being retested on land and he will be added to the official health stats if the second test comes back positive. Singapore has recorded just over 58,000 cases of covid-19 and 29 deaths since the pandemic began earlier this year, despite having a population of roughly 5.6 million people. The state of Minnesota, by contrast, has recorded over 359,000 cases and 4,086 deaths despite having a population identical to Singapore.
The concept of so-called “cruises to the nowhere” and even “flights to nowhere” have gained traction during the covid-19 pandemic, as people long for a version of normalcy, even if it means they depart and arrive at the same destination, never leaving the ship or plane. Taking a cruise in the ocean without stopping at different destinations may seem bizarre, but there have been plenty of people willing to sign up.
An Australian “flight to nowhere” operated by Qantas sold out in just 10 minutes back in September. The seven-hour flight took off and landed in Sydney after flying by iconic landmarks like Byron Bay, Bondi Beach, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge, sometimes at a much lower altitude than normal to give passengers a better look.
The passenger who tested positive for covid-19 will receive a full refund from Royal Caribbean, according to the Strait Times, and all other passengers will receive a discount for the day they missed at sea.
Genting Cruise Lines has also begun operating “cruises to nowhere” from Singapore and that company’s World Dream ship is reportedly scheduled to depart tonight at 6:00 p.m. local time with 1,700 people on board. It’s a bit hard to see why you’d risk taking a cruise to nowhere when vaccines are so close to deployment around the world, but best of luck to anyone sailing right now. The desire to return to normal life sure is strong.