Coronavirus: cruise giant Royal Caribbean appeals to HK authorities to reconsider 21-day service suspension over Covid-19 scare

27-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

A multinational giant offering “cruises to nowhere” has appealed to Hong Kong authorities to ease a 21-day service suspension imposed after a Covid-19 scare, with industry stakeholders estimating the firm is suffering a huge loss as a result of the halt.

Cruise company Royal Caribbean International was aiming to get the suspension period shortened, an industry insider said on Monday.

Health officials ordered Royal Caribbean, one of two companies offering “cruises to nowhere” from Hong Kong, to suspend voyages on its Spectrum of the Seas liner until November 11 after a 40-year-old crew member was classified as a “repositive case” last week following Covid-19 testing.

“We are now appealing to local authorities to reconsider the 21-day suspension, following the negative test results of all Spectrum of the Seas’ crew, including the one crew member in question,” the Florida-headquartered company said in a statement.

The rest of the 1,250 crew had tested negative twice as of Saturday morning and were isolating on the vessel, anchored near Lamma Island, with the company saying it was puzzled why health authorities still deemed the case a threat.

Hong Kong has kept Covid-19 infections and deaths to a minimum but has struggled to resume international travel as local authorities aim to align with mainland China’s strict “zero-Covid” approach. On the mainland, reinfections are still subject to intensive contact-tracing.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has repeatedly said the city’s priority is to first restore cross-border travel with the mainland, its biggest market for business and tourism.

Spectrum of the Seas’ three-night cruise scheduled for the coming Thursday will be cancelled as a “prudent response” and all affected guests who have already paid their fares will receive a full refund.

Hong Kong Travel Agents’ Relief Alliance convenor Perry Yiu Pak-leung, who lobbied for the cruise to nowhere scheme, said Royal Caribbean would be “running at a massive loss” if the suspension lasted three weeks.

“For each day it’s ordered to suspend sailings, it’s losing money paying for the vessel to be berthed in Hong Kong. The crew on board also have to be paid wages, while the company will also lose money paying refunds to customers affected by the suspension period.”

Yiu said Hong Kong authorities should make clear their conditions for triggering a 21-day suspension.

“It would be better if the company could be suspended for one week to get all cruise passengers and staff tested, and if all results are negative, they could resume the sailings. That would be the ideal case,” he said. “Now it seems authorities will put everything on pause even with a low risk of spreading.”

New York-listed Parent company Royal Caribbean Group reported a net loss of $1.3 billion for the three months to end of June, compounding the $1.6 billion deficit recorded in the same quarter last year.

In the second quarter this year, the company reported revenues of $19.3 million from the Asia-Pacific region, about 38 per cent of its total. The company was burning cash at a rate of roughly $330 million per month in the second quarter as it tried to get cruise itineraries up and running again.

Last Thursday’s sailing was halted at the last minute just as 1,200 passengers were boarding the ship after the 40-year-old tested preliminary-positive for Covid-19.

He initially “tested indeterminate” at a private lab on Thursday, prompting the immediate cancellation of the sailing that night. The next day, a test conducted by a Department of Health lab returned a positive result, but with very low viral load.

The patient was asymptomatic and tested negative upon admission to hospital on Thursday.

In a Centre for Health Protection statement on Friday related to the incident, a spokesman said “measures to prevent the importation of cases and the spreading of the virus in the community should be kept up”.

The Post has contacted the relevant health authorities for updates.

If the appeal is unsuccessful, guests booked on any sailing until November 11 who wish to cancel can receive a full refund of their paid fare and any pre-cruise purchases, including taxes and fees, according to Royal Caribbean.

Hong Kong started allowing companies to operate cruises to nowhere from July after the embattled tourism sector lobbied for the scheme, under which ships cannot stop at other destinations for health reasons.

All crew members and passengers aged over 12 years must be fully vaccinated and test negative before they embark. Children ineligible for vaccination must test negative as well.

Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said the suspension was prudent.

“As we don’t know when the cruise ship member was infected and there were queries about the case, it is natural to adopt a more prudent measure,” Hui said, adding that in general a Covid-19 case would not be transmissive 10 days after first being infected.

Respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu said he believed there were “very low risks” of infection spreading as a result of the crew member.

“It’s a question of how much risk Hong Kong health authorities are willing to take,” Leung said. “We can say that Hong Kong has reached no local infections as there’s been no local transmission chain for months.”

Leung said authorities were fretting over the possibility cruise staff, who came from all parts of the world, could bring in residual traces of the coronavirus even if they were fully vaccinated.

Still, Hong Kong has only seen 213 coronavirus deaths to date.

In the past two weeks, the city added 59 imported cases detected upon arrival or during mandatory hotel quarantine to its overall tally. Hong Kong last confirmed a local infection 17 days ago.


Category: Hong Kong

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