Singaporeans' opinions mixed over safety of 'cruises to nowhere' despite new measures

The World Dream cruise ship in a promotional photo supplied by Genting Cruise Lines.
The World Dream cruise ship in a promotional photo supplied by Genting Cruise Lines.PHOTO: GENTING CRUISE LINES
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas next to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas next to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.PHOTO: ROYAL CARIBBEAN

SINGAPORE - People have clearly split views about whether it is safe to go on upcoming cruises to nowhere that have received the official nod.

An online poll of more than 1,000 Straits Times readers on Thursday (Oct 8) showed that 51 per cent gave it the thumbs up and 49 per cent, the thumbs down.

The naysayers cite a lack of confidence about the new safety measures in place against the coronavirus while the enthusiasts say it is a welcome getaway at a time when other forms of travel are not an option.

Data engineer Thng Kai Ting, 24, sees it as the only way to enjoy a sense of "getting away".

"I've never been on a cruise pre-Covid-19 because I'd rather fly, but now that I've no choice, I'll take whatever option I can get."

A general practitioner, who wanted to be known only as Dr Lua, 39, cited the difficulty of coordinating and managing activities like meal times.

"Even with half the number of guests, you're still going to have to have hundreds of people eating at the same time," he added. "There are still a lot of unknowns, and with many people in a confined space - I'm not sure it's a good idea."

They were commenting on the go-ahead that Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International have received from the authorities to offer cruises to nowhere from Singapore.

But they have to follow a strict set of guidelines to prevent the on-board spread of the coronavirus.

These include catering only to Singapore residents and at a reduced capacity of 50 per cent, conducting Covid-19 tests before boarding, strict and frequent cleaning and sanitation on board and ensuring no recirculation of air on the ship.

Cruise ships have been hot spots for the Covid-19 virus, especially in the initial months of the pandemic earlier this year.

One incident that captured the world's attention was the Diamond Princess which docked in Yokohama, with about 3,700 people who were quarantined on board. More than 700 of them were infected.

Some experts noted the Singapore Tourism Board's new safety measures for the cruise lines are stricter than those for other attractions that are open here.

"The safety measures are more stringent than what is required of hotels offering staycations," said Professor Jeremy Lim, director of the Leadership Institute for Global Health Transformation at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Given the very low community prevalence of the virus and the requirement of a negative test before boarding, the risk of an infection is low, Prof Lim said.

"Also, while cruising, passengers will need to maintain public health measures such as wearing masks and being socially distant, moves that will further reduce the risk of transmission," he added.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Rophi Clinic in Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, said that the safety measures "are sufficiently safe".

"If you think about it, many people have been travelling to supermarkets even though they were infectious, but no one fell sick. Isn't the cruise line and extension of the Singapore land based activities?" said Dr Leong.

Still, some, like Madam Julie Teo, who is self-employed in the shipping business, are still wary.

Said the 57-year-old: "I'm not a big fan of cruises, but without Covid-19 around, I would not mind going.

"However, I just don't think it's safe to be stuck on a boat with the same people for a few days."