Published on : Monday, December 20, 2021
Forty-eight passengers and crew members tested positive for COVID-19 on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas ship, which docked at Port Miami on Saturday, the cruise company said.
The four dozen cases on the massive cruise ship, where vaccination was required for the vast majority of passengers 12 and over, are prompting worries and speculation that cruising may see a repeat of the disastrous spread of COVID-19 that occurred at the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of the industry for more than a year.
In a statement on Sunday, Miami-based Royal Caribbean said that each person who tested positive immediately went into quarantine.
Six people who tested positive disembarked the ship mid-voyage and were transported home.
The ship that pulled into Miami the day before left port on Dec. 11 with 6,091 passengers and crew on board, 95% of whom were fully vaccinated.
Of the 48 who tested positive for COVID-19, 98% were fully vaccinated. Royal Caribbean said in a statement that the passengers who tested positive were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms.
However, passengers noted that was not the case. James Johnson and Connor O’Dell, an engaged couple who live in Orlando, were on Symphony of the Seas with a group of 12 family members. All members of their party were fully vaccinated.
The couple and the rest of their party, who had been in close contact with Johnson’s aunt and had gone to the ship’s crowded night club, said that they received conflicting information from Royal Caribbean about whether they needed to quarantine and that initially they would not give them coronavirus tests.
The voyage that resulted in 48 positive cases of COVID-19 was a seven-night Caribbean itinerary leaving from Miami and visiting St. Maarten; St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands; and CocoCay, the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas.
The new cases come as the omicron variant is quickly spreading across the United States, potentially throwing a wrench in holiday travel plans. Royal Caribbean said that Symphony of Sea’s future trips would not be affected. The ship is has already left Miami for a new trip to Mexico.
Royal Caribbean requires that all passengers on the Symphony of the Seas who are 12 or older be fully vaccinated. All passengers must take a COVID test before boarding. Crew members are required to be fully vaccinated and are tested weekly.
While the breakthrough cases may be a setback for the cruise industry, which only began restarting over the past six months, it’s still too soon to know the damage that omicron will do.
The variant was only identified about a month ago in South Africa and scientist are still searching for answers about how contagious and severe it is, and how it effects vaccinated people.
Cruise industry leaders say that being on a cruise ship is the safest kind of vacation travellers can take at the moment because of the controlled environment where they can mandate vaccines. But breakthrough infections have the potential to put the industry in a bad spot again.
Cruises were COVID-19 hot spots at the onset of the pandemic, causing the industry to completely shut down for over a year. Many cruise lines had to take on massive debts while they were unable to make any revenue for the better part of a year and a half.
Julia Simpson, the president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, a global tourism industry body, said she hopes that the tourism sector can continue operating through the holidays for now, warning of the economic impact of shutting down travel again. The U.S. lost 5.5 million tourism-sector jobs during the pandemic, a WTTC economic impact study found.
The WTTC believes that fully vaccinated travellers, during this precious time to see family and friends, should be able to travel freely, she said. It’s been proven that closing borders does not decrease the spread. If they close borders for the holiday season, it will be a serious blow to the travel and tourism sector.