An apparent ‘breakthrough’ case of COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of a scheduled four-night cruise to nowhere from Hong Kong and after further follow-up, Chinese authorities are now asking Royal Caribbean International to suspend the cruise for 21 days. Reports of a positive COVID test for a crew member emerged after passengers boarded the cruise and just two weeks after Royal Caribbean boarded Sea specter had started sailing from Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Department of Health’s Health Protection Center reports that during routine testing, a 40-year-old crew member tested positive for COVID-19. The first Oct. 21 test result from a private lab was classified as “undetermined,” prompting the health ministry to board the ship and conduct its own test. “The result of the confirmatory test carried out by the Directorate of Public Health Laboratory Services of the DH on the same day revealed that the sample was positive for COVID-19, with a very low viral load,” reported the CHP.
A review of the crew member’s history shows he tested positive for the virus in July while in Malaysia, but then tested negative multiple times. He also received the Chinese vaccine against COVID-19 and was considered fully vaccinated.
The crew member, who is reportedly asymptomatic, was transferred to a hospital where another test classified him as negative despite his antibody test for the virus being positive. “Based on the epidemiological and laboratory results, the case is compatible with a new positive case”, determined the CHP.
Royal Caribbean International told the approximately 1,200 passengers who had boarded the Sea specter for the cruise that their trip was canceled by health authorities. The cruise line, however, said the crew worked in a back-office position, meaning they had no contact with passengers.
However, Hong Kong’s strict COVID regulations, in addition to requiring the cruise to be canceled, have triggered a contract research program, and anyone deemed to have been in close contact with the crew member is being put in compulsory quarantine in a quarantine center. Passengers and crew members who had been on the ship for more than two hours between September 30 and October 21 are required to undergo mandatory testing and, â€œout of caution, the CHP has also asked the cruise to suspend its voyage for 21 days. They can receive guests from November 11.
Royal Caribbean International had planned to resume sailing from Hong Kong at the end of July after authorities said they would allow cruises to start on a model similar to Singapore’s. Travel is restricted to residents vaccinated against COVID-19 and tested negative before boarding. The 169,379 gross tonne cruise ship, which can accommodate up to 5,600 passengers, also has a 50% capacity restriction and voyages are limited to between two and four days at sea without ports. Royal Caribbean has delayed the start of cruises three times citing COVID and travel restrictions as well as quarantine requirements. The Sea specter began cruises from Hong Kong on October 14.
The cruise line’s latest setback comes when Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of its parent company Royal Caribbean Group, posted a video aimed at travel professionals saying, â€œNow is the time to look ahead. The focus is on how we come out of the panic and pandemic, rather than how we should live during it. he believes the cruise industry will be back to a more normal position by the end of 2021. The cruise line plans to return 12 additional ships for Royal Caribbean International between September 2021 and May 2022, as well as ships additional cruise lines for other parent company brands.