SINGAPORE: Singapore's pilot scheme for "safe cruises" with COVID-19 protocols will continue as planned, with the Government to monitor outcomes of the sailings before deciding on the next steps for cruises.
This follows the "swift and robust response" to a suspected COVID-19 case on board a Royal Caribbean International cruise, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a media release on Thursday (Dec 10).
The elderly passenger, who initially tested positive for COVID-19 on board the Quantum of the Seas ship, has been confirmed not to have the coronavirus after testing negative three times since the vessel returned to Singapore on Wednesday.
READ: Close contacts of cruise passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 have quarantine orders rescinded after third negative test
"Safety remains our foremost priority, and yesterday's incident has given us valuable learnings for future sailings, such as the importance of using TraceTogether for effective contact tracing," said Mr Keith Tan, STB's chief executive.
"It has also given assurance that our established response to any future COVID-19 case is swift and effective," he said.
Mr Tan commended Royal Caribbean International and terminal operator SATS-Creuers for the "timely execution" of their emergency protocols.
He also commended Genting Cruise Lines, which had another ship set to sail from the same terminal on Wednesday, for supporting safety operations by embarking their passengers early to prevent intermingling.
"Their professionalism gives us confidence that our pilot cruises will continue to be safe and sustainable, as we work with our partners and cruise lines to chart a new course for safe cruising," said Mr Tan.
READ: Possible Royal Caribbean COVID-19 case – Protocols show 'robustness' of system, says Chan Chun Sing
Earlier on Thursday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that the protocols taken after the passenger had initially tested positive highlighted the "robustness" of the system.
"From yesterday's experience, it shows the robustness of the system that once you find out that there is a positive – whether it is a real positive or false positive – you immediately swing into action to do subsequent tests, you do isolation, you do contact tracing," said Mr Chan, when asked about the incident.
"So while yesterday might have turned out to be a false alarm, it has actually allowed the cruise industry to test the entire protocols to see how we can do this well and do this better."
SAFETY PROTOCOLS ACTIVATED
Royal Caribbean International and Genting Cruise Lines were allowed to resume pilot cruises with no ports of call in November and December respectively after meeting requirements under the Government's mandatory CruiseSafe certification programme, said STB.
Retracing the chain of events on Wednesday, STB noted that the ship with 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew returned to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre after the passenger tested positive based on the ship's on board testing procedures.
READ: 'Definitely I'll go again' – Some Royal Caribbean passengers say no regrets going on cruise that was cut short by COVID-19 case
Protocols such as ceasing all on-board leisure activities, asking passengers to remain in their rooms, the immediate isolation of close contacts and extensive contact tracing using TraceTogether were then activated, it said.
"Passengers and crew were also asked to remain on board until contact tracing was completed, and disembarkation began at 7.30pm, less than 12 hours after the ship had returned to the terminal," said STB.
READ: Royal Caribbean cruise passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 taken to hospital; other passengers to remain on board
Apart from the emergency protocols put into action on Wednesday, precautionary measures such as mandatory COVID-19 testing, reduced sailing capacity and strict safe distancing measures were also in place, the tourism board added.
"Many of these measures, such as pre-boarding and post-arrival testing, go beyond Singapore's prevailing requirements for other settings or activities, and provide greater assurance for safe cruising," said STB.
"The Government will continue to monitor the outcomes of the pilot sailings in the coming months before deciding on the next steps for cruises."
In a separate press release on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said it would support the laboratory on board the Quantum of the Seas in its review of its testing processes.
On Wednesday evening, Royal Caribbean International said that it would cancel its Quantum of the Seas cruise originally set to sail on Thursday "in an overabundance of caution", with sailings to resume on Dec 14.