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Royal Caribbean Megaship Grounded After 8 Crew Members Test Positive For COVID-19

MIAMI — Royal Caribbean’s new megaship, Odyssey of the Seas, was supposed to hail the company’s return to business as near-usual this summer.

But the ship’s launch is now delayed, after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19. Its first scheduled trips are now canceled.

The outbreak happened despite all 1,400 crew members being vaccinated on June 4. Those infections happened before the 14 day post-vaccine mark, June 18, at which point people are considered largely immune from a COVID infection. 

The Odyssey of the Seas had been slated to make its debut sail with paying passengers on July 3 — more than a year after the cruise ship industry was hobbled by the pandemic. Its first voyage is now delayed for four weeks, until July 31. By then, summer will be nearly halfway over.

“While disappointing, this is the right decision for the health and well-being of our crew and guests,” Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said as he announced the delay.

The cruise line says it’s contacting customers to discuss refunding tickets and rebooking their trips.

All 1,400 crew members aboard the ship will now be quarantined. The entire crew had been vaccinated on June 4, the same day their ship arrived in Port Canaveral, Fla., Bayley said. The positive cases sprang up before their vaccinations could be considered fully effective.

Members of the Odyssey of the Seas’ crew were tested on the day they arrived in Florida. A week later, a second round of tests returned the positive results. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires regular tests in the conditional sailing order that has allowed the U.S. cruise industry to restart operations.

The cruise company says its infected crew members are being monitored by medical staff. Six of them are asymptomatic and two have mild symptoms, Bayley said.

Cruise ships were banned from operating from U.S. ports last March, when the CDC issued a No Sail Order due to the pandemic. Cruise trips were linked to several early COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S., and outbreaks of cases on ships have been blamed for at least 41 deaths.

The first commercial cruise to launch from a U.S. port in more than a year is expected to take place in 10 days, when a Celebrity Cruises ship will depart from Fort Lauderdale for a weeklong tour of the Caribbean.

Under the CDC’s new guidelines, cruise ships will be able to operate under near-normal conditions, if a large portion of passengers and crew are fully vaccinated. Guests who are vaccinated against the coronavirus can even fill up their own plates at the buffet, for instance.

—NPR

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