U-turn for cruise ship after elderly man tests positive for Covid-19
Ship returns with near 3,000 on board but in a twist, MOH reports elderly man's subsequent test as negative
With the youngest son having just finished his Primary School Leaving Examination, the Cheo family decided to go on a cruise during the school holidays.
But after departing on Monday for what was to be a four-day trip, the family of four found themselves back on land yesterday evening.
The ship they were on, the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Quantum of the Seas, had turned back to Singapore after an 83-year-old Singaporean man tested positive for Covid-19 while on board.
There was a twist to the incident last night when the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported that a retest on the original sample of the man and a test on a second fresh sample at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) had come back negative.
NPHL will conduct another test today.
The man, who like the other passengers passed a mandatory pre-boarding test, had gone to the ship's medical centre after a bout of diarrhoea and took a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test which turned out positive.
He was immediately isolated, and all guests and crew who had close contact with him were tested and all were negative for the virus.
The Quantum of the Seas arrived at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at around 8am yesterday with 1,680 guests and 1,148 crew on board.
Mr Vernon Cheo, a regional sales director in his early 40s, said he was asleep with his two sons aged 12 and 13, and his wife, 40, yesterday when the captain made an announcement at about 2.45am that the ship would be returning to port.
He said no reason was given at the time, but he found out about the man through the news later on.
Mr Cheo told The New Paper the family was still in good spirits despite the change in their plans.
"It was initially a shock, but now we're calm, accepting it for what it is.
"We need to look at the bigger picture, and the important thing is that everyone remains safe," he said.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced in October that Genting and Royal Caribbean cruise lines would resume cruises this month, under a pilot scheme where they must operate at a reduced capacity, among other safety measures, to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.
The "cruises to nowhere" will allow Singaporeans to take part in activities on board while out at sea for several days before returning to Singapore.
It was reported that there was high demand for the cruises, with the companies saying bookings had exceeded expectations.
Ms Annie Chang, director of cruises at STB, said yesterday that all passengers and crew of the Quantum of the Seas tested negative for Covid-19 when the ship departed on Monday.
Guests started disembarking at around 7.30pm yesterday after a contact tracing review was conducted.
"As per regular post-arrival protocols, they will undergo mandatory Covid-19 testing before leaving the terminal," said Ms Chang.
"As a precautionary measure, they are also required to monitor their health for 14 days from the date of disembarkation and undergo a swab test at a designated government swabbing facility at the end of the monitoring period."
Close contacts of the elderly man, however, were sent to a quarantine facility even though they had tested negative.
A spokesman for Royal Caribbean said it had worked closely with the authorities to ensure guests disembarked safely and smoothly. Its entire crew will undergo PCR tests today.
"We have created a thorough set of protocols designed to mitigate risk, including PCR and antigen testing of all guests and crew before boarding," she said.
"Being able to identify this single case and act on it immediately demonstrates the system is working as it is designed to."
The spokesman added that all guests will be compensated for the missed day at sea.
It would also be cancelling its cruise scheduled for today out of an abundance of caution, with sailings set to resume next Monday.
The vessel will undergo deep cleaning and disinfection.
Genting Cruise Lines' World Dream departed the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at about 6pm yesterday, just before those aboard Quantum of the Seas disembarked.