With almost all cruising grounded worldwide, and even some intrepid lines in Europe halting their bubble cruises due to the pandemic’s second wave, optimists in the industry were looking to Singapore for hope.
That’s where Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas had begun a series of bubble ‘cruises to nowhere’ – the first sailings for the cruise line since the shutdown.
As reported in Seatrade, the first sailing departed 01DEC on a two-night itinerary, to be followed by three- and four-night cruises. Quantum would sail at no more than 50% capacity, with pre- and post-cruise testing, and guests issued a Singapore-government-issued ‘Tracelet’ to assist in contact tracing along with Royal’s own ‘token’ system for contact tracing and social distancing.
With regulatory collaboration and government-approved protocols in place, combined with Singapore’s very low – almost non-existent – COVID case count, the risks seemed low and success seemed likely.
Royal Caribbean even provided COVID medical insurance for its Singapore pax, including “up to SGD$25,000 per person in the travel party for on-board medical costs, any required quarantine and travel home.”
But less than a week after launching the cruise series, Quantum of the Seas cut short a sailing and returned to Singapore with news that one pax on board had tested positive for COVID.
According to Cruise Week, it was an 83-year old Singapore passenger who tested positive.
It also quoted a statement from Royal Caribbean which said, “We identified and isolated all guests and crew who had close contact with this guest, and each of those individuals have subsequently tested negative for the virus.
“The ship has returned to port today in accordance with government protocols, and will debark guests after a review of contact tracing is completed.”
The Case for Calling Cancellation a Success
This morning, Cruise Week carried an update from the cruise line, cancelling its next, 10DEC sailing, in an “overabundance of caution.” But it also said Royal is planning on resuming scheduled operations for its subsequent departure on 14DEC.
And there are no reports that Singapore officials plan to prevent a resumption of Royal Caribbean’s bubble ‘cruises to nowhere’.
It’s never good news when there’s a COVID case on a ship. But there’s no indication this case will derail a global return to cruising.
Instead, the Singapore experience may inform and reinforce post-COVID best practices. As a result of this incident with an 83-year old guest, we could see restrictions on pax who may be more vulnerable to COVID due to their age.
While the world has to live with COVID, the goal of the travel industry and every government is having systems in place to handle an isolated case and prevent it from triggering a wider outbreak. Based on its statement in Cruise Week, Royal Caribbean may even be calling this incident a success.
“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.