Hong Kong Forces Cruise Ship to Return from Voyage, Holds 2,500 for COVID Testing

Royal Caribbean's Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship was forced to turn around and head back to Hong Kong after passengers on board were linked to an Omicron outbreak. Thousands of passengers were held on the ship Wednesday as they awaited COVID-19 testing.

The "cruise to nowhere" left Hong Kong on Sunday and was forced to return a day earlier than planned after concern over the Omicron variant, a government statement said.

Health authorities said nine passengers on the ship were linked with a group of Omicron cases back on land so they demanded the ship return to port.

Once the ship arrived back in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning the 2,500 passengers on board were held on the ship for the majority of the day, waiting to be tested after learning a few other passengers were exposed to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The nine passengers who were exposed were immediately put into isolation and all tested negative, said Royal Caribbean in a statement.

The cruise line said passengers on board during the incident would receive a 25 percent refund. The ship was planned to set sail again on Thursday but that cruise was canceled because the crew needed to be tested. The passengers for that trip will be given a full refund.

Cruise Turned Back COVID-19 China
Thousands of passengers were being held Wednesday on the Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship in Hong Kong for coronavirus testing after health authorities said nine passengers were linked to a recent Omicron cluster and ordered the ship to turn back. Journalists film the Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship which is docked at Kai Tak cruise terminal in Hong Kong Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Vincent Yu/AP Photo

One passenger, Claudy Wong, said Royal Caribbean had tried its best to follow pandemic regulations.

"The pandemic has gone on for so long, actually passengers like us who board the cruise are already prepared for such situations to happen," Wong said.

Royal Caribbean said in a statement that the company was working closely with authorities to comply with epidemic prevention policies and regulations.

Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States and seven other countries as the city attempted to stem an emerging Omicron outbreak.

The two-week ban on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States will take effect Sunday and continue until January 21.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that restaurant dining will be forbidden after 6 p.m. for two weeks starting Friday. Game arcades, bars and beauty salons must also close during that period.

"We have to contain the pandemic to ensure that there will not be a major outbreak in the community again," Lam said at a news conference, adding that the city is "on the verge" of another surge.

The measures came as new Omicron clusters have emerged over the past week, many linked to several Cathay Pacific crew members who broke isolation rules and dined at restaurants and bars in the city before testing positive.

Hong Kong has reported 114 Omicron variant cases as of Tuesday, with most being imported. On Tuesday, it reported its first untraceable case in nearly three months, which authorities said was likely caused by the Omicron variant.

Hong Kong officials have moved swiftly to block the spread of the variant, locking down residential buildings where people have tested positive and mass-testing thousands of people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.