Remember back in 2020 at the start of the pandemic when the Diamond Princess taught the world everything they never wanted to know about contagion as the then-novel coronavirus tore through the massive cruise ship, infecting 712 out of the 3,711 passengers?
Well, fast forward two years and another ocean liner—Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas— is stuck in a similarly hellish limbo with 2,500 passengers and crew at the mercy of swab-yielding medics after nine people are suspected of being infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The ship, which disembarked last Sunday on a “cruise to nowhere”— meaning it wouldn’t make any port calls to avoid contracting COVID-19—had to return to Hong Kong a day early because of fears that the highly contagious variant would spread.
The cruise-ship cluster is said to be tied to a group of Cathay Pacific flight attendants who bucked isolation regulations and went out partying on a stopover after flying into Hong Kong from America.
A 28-year-old flight attendant who tested positive for COVID-19 and then was identified as having the Omicron variant, danced with a passenger last weekend who then boarded the ship Sunday. The passenger’s household staff member separately tested positive for the virus, according to the South China Morning Post, making him doubly contagious. He and eight others with whom he spent time on the cruise are in isolation waiting for PCR tests.
The apparently very social infected flight attendant, who lives in North Point in eastern Hong Kong, apparently overnighted with friends in the suburb of Tung Chung, which, thanks to her, is now under a full lockdown.
All 20 people who were part of the flight attendant’s entourage reportedly partied in Victoria Park and Causeway Bay. A 48-year-old woman who had joined the group as a hanger-on was the first to test positive. The flight attendants were not supposed to leave isolation until they took COVID tests but instead left and took the test the morning after, which is when the infections were discovered and which, of course, was by then too late.
“We’re all waiting for normalcy to return and for borders to reopen but because a handful of aircrew can’t follow the rules and they drag us in the mud, potentially spreading the virus all over the city,” passenger Chris Leung told the South China Morning Post.
The current outbreak is similar to one in late December when another infected Cathay Pacific flight attendant chose to dine at the Moon Palace restaurant rather than isolating in her room. She was infected, and soon after nearly everyone she came into contact was too.
For its part, Royal Caribbean International will reimburse passenger 25 percent of their ticket for the curtailed cruise. Those who were supposed to embark on the now grounded ship on Thursday will receive full fare refunds.
Not coincidentally, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday announced new COVID restrictions, including a two-week ban on flights from the U.S., closed bars, nightclubs and other venues for at least 14 days, and canceled all future cruise-ship departures.