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Possible Royal Caribbean COVID-19 case: Protocols show 'robustness' of system, says Chan Chun Sing

Possible Royal Caribbean COVID-19 case: Protocols show 'robustness' of system, says Chan Chun Sing

A man stands on board the Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas cruise ship on Dec 9, 2020 at Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: The protocols taken after a Royal Caribbean cruise passenger initially tested positive for COVID-19, before testing negative twice, highlight the "robustness" of the system, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Thursday (Dec 10).

Speaking to reporters at a virtual press conference after a visit to National University of Singapore's Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, Mr Chan added that the incident has allowed the cruise industry to "test" protocols.

"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."

On Wednesday morning, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas ship returned to Singapore a day ahead of schedule after an 83-year-old passenger tested positive for COVID-19 while on board the vessel.

READ: 83-year-old cruise passenger tests negative twice for COVID-19 after initial positive result

The man reported on Tuesday evening to the ship's medical centre with diarrhoea. He was tested for COVID-19 using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test equipment on board the ship as part of the protocols, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

After returning to Singapore, the man's original sample was re-tested at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), and a second sample was taken for confirmatory tests.

Both samples came back negative, said MOH on Wednesday night. 

The other passengers on the cruise were told to isolate in their rooms after the man tested positive. They were allowed to disembark about 12 hours after the ship docked in Singapore.  

Singapore Tourism Board said on Wednesday afternoon that passengers on the ship would undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing before leaving the terminal as part of regular post-arrival protocols.

As a precautionary measure, they are also required to monitor their health for 14 days from the date of disembarkation and undergo a swab test at a designated government swabbing facility at the end of the monitoring period.

READ: Royal Caribbean cruise passengers disembark from ship where man tested positive for COVID-19

Mr Chan said that any COVID-19 test comes with the inherent possibility of a false positive or false negative result.

"Any test, whether it is PCR or any other tests, there will always be a slight chance that there is a false positive, and that varies across different tests. Likewise, there could also be a false negative, it is inherent within any test," he added.

"That's why we need a series of protocols to make sure that we minimise the risk to the lowest possible."

He noted that the protocols for the cruise industry include a test before boarding, a test on the ship while it is sailing, as well as the use of the TraceTogether system and CCTVs for contact tracing. A combination of testing and contact tracing is needed to minimise the risk "to the lowest possible", said Mr Chan.

The minister also emphasised the need for people to remain vigilant.

"Be it the cruise industry or any other activities that we hold, we must never let our guard down. Never think that just because we rely on one particular method, whether it is testing or tracing, then we would have overcome the problem," he said.

READ: ‘Definitely I’ll go again’: Some Royal Caribbean passengers say no regrets going on cruise that was cut short by COVID-19 case

"Even as the vaccine comes ... around and be made available, we must continue to have a rigorous testing and tracking regime to complement the other parts.

"These different parts must come together for us to minimise the risk to as low as possible to keep our population as safe as possible across the different types of activities."

On Wednesday evening, Royal Caribbean said it has decided to cancel its Quantum of the Seas cruise on Thursday "in an overabundance of caution". The decision comes after Royal Caribbean said earlier on Wednesday that the Thursday sailing would proceed as scheduled.

Sailings will resume on Dec 14, said Royal Caribbean in an email on Wednesday evening.

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Source: CNA/mt


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