A boat on a “cruise to nowhere” off the coast of Hong Kong with 3,700 people on board was forced to return to port due to the presence on board of 9 contact cases of an outbreak of contamination with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to the authorities.
The “Spectrum of the Seas” had sailed from Hong Kong on Sunday and was originally due to return there on Thursday after sailing in international waters for four days.
These “cruises to nowhere” were put in place during the pandemic to allow Hong Kong people to travel without having to undergo, on their return, the two or three weeks of compulsory quarantine for anyone arriving from abroad.
Hong Kong health authorities ordered the Royal Carribean company ship to return a day earlier than expected, after discovering the presence on board of nine people who had been in contact with a carrier of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The approximately 2,500 passengers and 1,200 crew members will not be allowed to disembark until they have tested negative for Covid-19.
An AFP reporter who was outside the cruise terminal on Wednesday saw passengers relaxing and exercising on their outdoor balconies.
“We must wear electronic bracelets to track our movements on board,” a passenger told AFP by phone. “When we booked this trip we knew there was a risk. It’s just bad luck it happened to us.”
Hong Kong practices a “zero Covid” strategy consisting of a long quarantine for anyone entering its territory and a draconian policy of isolating patients and their contacts.
This strategy has enabled the city of 7.5 million inhabitants to record just over 12,000 cases and only 213 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but at the cost of costly international isolation for this great world financial center.
So far, 114 cases of Omicron variant contamination have been detected in Hong Kong, mostly in travelers tested on arrival or during quarantine.
But the authorities have been on a war footing since the appearance of a small focus of local contamination in Omicron in a restaurant a few days ago, which triggered massive testing campaigns and frantic tracing of contact cases.