Although cruises in the United States are still on “pause,” they’ve restarted in other parts of the world, with varying degrees of success.
In this case, Royal Caribbean had a 4-day “cruise to nowhere” in Singapore. The cruise was considered “safe” because passengers were tested for COVID before embarkation, and it had no ports of call.
On the third day of the cruise, an 83-year-old passenger of the Quantum of the Seas went to the ship’s medical center with complaints of diarrhea. He was tested for COVID-19 and was found to be positive.
The man was immediately isolated. All leisure activities on board the ship were immediately halted, and all of the other passengers and crew members were quarantined in their cabins. The latter was done so officials could go over their contact tracing data and keep potential spread to a minimum (passengers were required to wear a “Tracelet,” an electronic bracelet that tracked their movements and monitored for social distancing).
Meanwhile, the ship returned to port a day early. Upon arriving at the dock, everyone onboard (1,680 guests and 1,148 crew members) first had to wait until another ship was fully boarded (to prevent intermingling of passengers and crew). They were next mandated to get tested for COVID before they could leave the terminal.
All passengers and crew tested negative and they were all advised to be tested again in 14 days.
Meanwhile, the elderly man was removed from the ship and taken to a local hospital, where he was retested for COVID. It came back negative. His original sample was then also retested and it, too, came back negative.
So he never had COVID at all. Good for him but…really? Really?
Royal Caribbean took care of everyone aboard the ship. The elderly man and his party will get a full refund. Everyone else on the ship will get a pro-rated cash refund for their day missed at sea, as well as a day’s worth of Future Cruise Credit for use on future trips. And a Royal Caribbean spokesperson apologized for the incident: “We know this isn’t exactly how you planned to spend your cruise, and we are terribly sorry. Again, this is for your benefit and to ensure all guests remain healthy and well.”
There are some good things about all this. The protocols that Royal Caribbean had in place seemed to work, at least in theory (you can’t tell if it worked in practice since the man turned out to be negative). And cash refunds, incentives in the form of onboard credits are appropriate for the time lost.
However, this just goes to show that testing can go wrong. You can get a false negative, or, like that swingers convention where 15% of the attendees came down with COVID even after being tested, there’s that incubation period between catching the virus and flipping to “positive” that can make all the difference in the world.
So yeah, this definitely needs to be fixed before cruises in the U.S. start again. Whether it’s requiring a vaccine or quarantine before cruising, or testing more than once in the days before the cruise, having better tests, or maybe a combination of two or more, cruise lines are going to have to have a better handle on ensuring people don’t test positive, rightly or wrongly, while on their cruise.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary