‘All activities to stop, ships to return’ if Covid-19 cases detected onboard Singapore's ‘cruises to nowhere’

Genting Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and the Singapore Tourism Board have spelt out the Covid-19 protocols amid concerns over a possible outbreak onboard the cruises. — Picture courtesy of Dream Cruises via TODAY
Genting Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and the Singapore Tourism Board have spelt out the Covid-19 protocols amid concerns over a possible outbreak onboard the cruises. — Picture courtesy of Dream Cruises via TODAY

SINGAPORE, Oct 14 — If suspected Covid-19 cases are detected on a “cruise to nowhere” departing from Singapore starting next month, they will be isolated immediately along with their close contacts and the ship will return to shore, with all guests not allowed to leave their rooms.

All activities onboard will stop and contact tracing will be activated. Deep cleaning will also be carried out. Once the ship returns to Singapore, contingency plans are in place for passengers to disembark and be provided with medical support if needed.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Genting Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) spelt out the Covid-19 protocols amid concerns over a possible outbreak onboard the cruises, which have drawn keen interest from the travel-starved public.

The two cruise lines have been given the green light to offer such round-trips with no ports of call as part of a pilot scheme announced last week by STB.

The cruises will sail at a reduced capacity of 50 per cent and must be audited under the CruiseSafe certification programme, which is benchmarked against global health and safety standards.

These standards include infection control measures at every stage of a passenger’s journey, ensuring 100 per cent fresh air throughout the ship, and frequent cleaning and sanitisation onboard.

The Straits Times on Monday reported that both firms have garnered high interest for their cruises, with Genting Cruise Lines receiving more than 6,000 bookings in just five days and Royal Caribbean International seeing an increase of bookings by 500 per cent compared with the past two weeks.

Royal Caribbean International’s first sailing on December 1, which is capped at about 1,000 guests, is almost sold out.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Angie Stephen, managing director of the Royal Caribbean’s operations in Asia Pacific, said its ship is equipped with upgraded medical facilities so immediate diagnostic testing can be carried out in the event that someone on the ship exhibits symptoms.

Similarly, Michael Goh, head of international sales at Genting Cruise Lines said it has a medical team onboard, which includes nurses, doctors and an infection control officer who are certified to manage any emergency or medical crisis.

In the event of a positive case on board, the passenger will be immediately isolated for further examination and his close contacts will be quarantined.

Goh said contact tracing will be done by analysing closed-circuit television cameras, access cards and mobile applications such as Trace Together.

“The scale of quarantine measures will vary according to situation and a-full-ship quarantine will be activated in the event of a confirmed case,” he said. “Only essential service crew with personal protective equipment are allowed limited movement on the ship and all onboard activities will cease during this period.”

Stephen spelt out similar protocols, adding that contact tracing will be activated via Bluetooth wearable devices provided by the firm, which guests and crews are required to carry at all times.

Both Stephen and Goh said the likelihood of an outbreak is assessed to be low given that all passengers and crew are tested, with short itineraries and no port of calls.

Safety a top priority'

Still, Goh stressed that the safety of passengers and crews remains the firm’s top priority.

“We understand the concerns of consumers as their mindset, requirements and expectations have evolved when it comes to leisure and travel with a focus on health and well-being,” he said.

STB’s cruise director Annie Chang said that cruise lines have Polymerase Chain Reaction machines onboard, which will be used to test suspected passengers with Covid-19 symptoms when the ships are sailing.

“There will be swift isolation of suspected cases and close contacts until results are out,” she added.

With safe management measures in place, such cruises are as safe as other activities that have resumed in Singapore, she reiterated.

The global cruise industry has largely ground to halt due to virus-related travel restrictions, and following a series of outbreaks on packed vessels.

In February, British-registered cruise ship Diamond Princess was quarantined off the coast of Japan, after more than 700 passengers and crew members were found ill.

Some experts have expressed caution about the cruises to nowhere. Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, was quoted by the Straits Times questioning whether cruise ships are “the hills we want to die on”.

He noted that a passenger infected a day before boarding will highly likely test negative on embarkation, only to turn positive in a day or two during the cruise. — TODAY

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