The repatriation of T&T nationals aboard Royal Caribbean International’s (RCI) Vision of the Seas hit a possible snag yesterday after 29 St Vincent and the Grenadines crew members tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival to their home country.
However, the tests administered to the Vincentians were antibody testing not approved by the World Health Organisation or the Ministry of Health as a proven test for COVID-19. As such, the Vincentian government will now administer the more reliable Polymerase Chain Reactor (PCR) tests to determine the validity of the first tests.
National Security Minister Stuart Young will no doubt be monitoring this situation closely as he seeks to negotiate with RCI to have the vessel dock in T&T. Young is hoping to have the approximately 345 Trinis onboard undergo a 14-day quarantine on the vessel under Ministry of Health supervision.
The ship left Miami on May 15 to repatriate RCI employees to their Caribbean homes. It was initially scheduled to arrive in Port-of-Spain on May 30 but that date was rescheduled as the Government only agreed to open the borders to returning cruise ship workers last Friday. The first two batches of nationals working on cruise ships abroad arrived over the weekend and they are now in quarantine at the University of the West Indies’ Debe campus.
Young did not respond to calls and messages from Guardian Media yesterday but a Ministry insider confirmed they had information that 14 Vincentians had tested positive for the virus up to midday yesterday. The insider said this can affect the repatriation of the Trinis, who have spent over two months at sea without working. By nightfall, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonzales said there were 29 positive test results.
“The rapid tests came back. I was advised that there were 29 rapid tests that are positive but you have to bear in mind that the PCR test results will come in tomorrow evening or Thursday. The results went down to CARPHA,” Gonzales said.
He clarified that the rapid tests detect antibodies and not active infections. He said samples were taken from all the Vincentians to conduct Polymerase Chain Reactor (PCR) tests, which detect whether there is COVID-19 in the body. He said there was no report any crew member had exhibited viral symptoms up to last night.
“We are not the first set of people to test positive from cruise ships and when we test on PCR, the numbers go down significantly.”
A T&T national aboard the ship said on Monday 359 Vincentians were administered rapid tests and some were positive.
The positive crew members were transferred from the ship to a government facility for quarantine and to submit swabs for PCR tests.
The remaining Vincentians were swabbed yesterday and returned to their cabins to continue quarantine until Friday (May 29) as they await the PCR test results.
“The initial tests that were administered were the rapid tests, which are known to give false-positive results,” the Trini crew member told Guardian Media.
“Important to note is that all Vincy crew members have been quarantined in their cabins since May 14. They have not been mingling with the general shipboard population.”
No date was given for the ship’s arrival in T&T. Guardian Media understands that official correspondence was sent to the executives at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL) but there was no response to date.
When contacted, RCCL stated that none of the passengers aboard that vessel tested positive for the virus.