Caution: coronavirus
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  • A Royal Caribbean cruise ship returned to port in Singapore after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19 early Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the cruise line and the Singapore Tourism Board confirmed to Insider.
  • The ship, Quantum of the Seas, was on day three of a four-day "cruise to nowhere", a trip that started and ended in Singapore with no stops in between.
  • 1,680 passengers remained quarantined in their cabins until further notice while officials conducted contact tracing and testing on Wednesday afternoon local time, Annie Chang, the Singapore Tourism Board's director of cruise, told Insider.
  • The passenger who tested positive was an 83-year-old man who reported to the ship's onboard medical center after feeling unwell, Chang said.
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One of Singapore's "cruises to nowhere" came to an abrupt end on Wednesday after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, spokespeople for the Royal Caribbean cruise line and the Singapore Tourism Board confirmed to Insider.

Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas vessel, which left Singapore on December 7, returned to port at the island city-state at about 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday, a day before it was scheduled to return from its four-day voyage, Kyunghee Park first reported for Bloomberg. As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew members were isolated on board while officials conduct contact tracing, Annie Chang, director of cruise at the Singapore Tourism Board, said in a statement to Insider. 

The guest who tested positive was an 83-year-old man who had taken a mandatory Covid-19 PCR test before boarding the ship and had tested negative, Chang said in the statement.

After reporting to the onboard medical center with diarrhea, the passenger took another PCR test, which came back positive, Chang said. Every guest and crew member who came into contact with the passenger was isolated and has since tested negative for the virus, she added.

At about 2:45 a.m. local time, the ship's captain informed passengers over the public announcement system that Quantum of the Seas would be returning to port, per Bloomberg. After the ship got back to Singapore at about 8 a.m., the captain announced that a passenger had tested positive.

"It's important that you know that you are safe on board and we have a good plan in place to maintain your health, safety, and comfort," the captain said, according to The Straits Times.

It's unclear how much longer the passengers and crew will have to remain on the ship. 

"They can't really disembark yet because the crew's operator has said that they are performing a review of the contact tracing, ostensibly to make sure they haven't missed anybody else," Gwyneth Teo said on Channel News Asia late Wednesday morning, reporting from the Marina Bay Cruise Center where the ship is docked. "Once that's done, the passengers will be allowed to disembark."

Royal Caribbean spokesperson Jonathon Fishman confirmed in an email to Insider that guests would be able to leave the ship after the review of contact tracing was completed, but he did not specify when that would be. Chang of the tourism board said that passengers would need to stay on the ship until the Genting Cruise Line's World Dream vessel, which is docked at the same port, finishes boarding its passengers at around 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Chang added that passengers "will continue to be given regular updates and amenities to make their stay more comfortable."

Before disembarkation, everyone will have to pass a rapid antigen test, Angie Stephen, Royal Caribbean's managing director for Asia-Pacific, told the Straits Times. 

"They can then go home and will be advised to monitor their health for the next 14 days," Stephen told the Times. "After that, all guests will take a polymerase chain reaction test with the expense borne by Royal Caribbean."

In the meantime, passengers visible on their balconies appeared to be "relaxed," Teo of Channel News Asia said.

"They were right outside on the balconies, just relaxing, talking to each other," she said. "One of them was doing push-ups."

Ronald Tam, a 43-year-old passenger on the ship with his family, told The Straits Times that all guests were told to stay in their rooms and await further instructions. "Hot breakfasts and water were delivered to all rooms," he said.

Royal Caribbean said in a memo to passengers that all guests would receive a refund in the form of onboard credit for the missed day of the cruise, according to Bloomberg.

Singapore's 'cruises to nowhere' come as the CDC advises avoiding cruise ship travel 

Dream Cruises launched its Singapore "cruises to nowhere" - three to four-day voyages that start and end in the city-state with no steps on between - last month, with Royal Caribbean following suit at the beginning of December. The cruises are only for Singapore residents, as the city-state is currently closed to short-term visitors from most countries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cruise ships' isolated environment and prolonged close contact between passengers crew make them prime targets for infectious disease outbreaks. As of November 23, 2020, the CDC "recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships."

Royal Caribbean touted its safety protocols in a December 3 press release announcing the departure of its first "cruise to nowhere," noting that passengers would be required to undergo Covid-19 testing upon embarking and debarkation. The cruises would be operating at reduced occupancy with enforced mask wearing, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning protocols.

"That we were able to quickly identify this single case and take immediate action is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to do," Fishman, the Royal Caribbean spokesperson, told Insider.

In recent weeks, Singapore has been keeping its Covid-19 largely under control, with only 80 active cases. The city-state has reported a handful of new cases each day, mainly coming from foreign arrivals or returning Singaporeans who are already in quarantine. 

The Singapore Tourism Board did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment for this story.

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