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Nearly 50 people on Royal Caribbean cruise that docked in Miami test positive for coronavirus

The Symphony of the Seas cruise ship in Miami last year. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
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At least 48 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas cruise ship that docked in Miami on Saturday, the company said, as the omicron variant continues to spread around the world.

The sprawling ship, which boasts a nightclub, theater and more than 30 restaurants and bars, left Miami on Dec. 11 for a seven-day trip and made a handful of stops, including the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Coronavirus regulations stipulated by the company meant that all travelers over the age of 12 had to be fully vaccinated and produce a negative test result before the voyage. Cruise companies tightened their protocols this summer — requiring pre-cruise tests for everyone, not just unvaccinated passengers — due to the delta variant surge.

The company said it did not have plans to cancel any of its upcoming cruises.

Regarding a separate cruise, “we were notified by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that a guest on board our [December] 4th cruise tested positive and it was identified as omicron,” Royal Caribbean spokesperson Lyan Sierra-Caro told USA Today.

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The CDC said it was aware of the Symphony of the Seas outbreak and was working with Royal Caribbean to “gather more information about the cases and possible exposures.” Officials said specimens would be taken for genetic sequencing.

More than 6,000 passengers and crew members were on the Dec. 11 cruise, the company said, adding that those who tested positive were immediately isolated to prevent the spread of infection. The cruise line said they were either asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms.

Some of the ship’s passengers criticized the company’s handling of the outbreak, saying they had been given a false sense of security after the cruise was advertised as safe by officials who hailed their testing capabilities.

“They failed their own safety standards,” James Johnson, who stayed on the ship with family members, told the Miami Herald, as other passengers reported that they had received conflicting advice from overwhelmed staffers amid the outbreak about testing and whether they needed to quarantine.

You asked: Are cruises safe from covid?

The World Health Organization warned Sunday that cases of the omicron variant are spreading “significantly faster” than the delta variant, raising fresh concerns for economies along with retail, travel and hospitality sectors around the world — which are still reeling from restrictions and shutdowns sparked at the beginning of the health crisis.

The outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship has thrust cruise liners back into the spotlight.

In March 2020, the industry in the United States went dark as the CDC announced a “no sail order,” which was upheld for more than a year. In June 2021, Celebrity Edge began sailing again, making it the first big vessel to depart from a U.S. port since the pandemic shutdown.

Covid cases were discovered on ships since the earliest days of the comeback, but they were often limited to a couple per cruise. In recent months, cruise lines have reported larger outbreaks: 27 on a Carnival ship in August, 17 on a Norwegian sailing earlier this month and now at least 48 on Symphony of the Seas, one of the largest ships in the world.

The CDC said last month that cruise companies had reported 1,359 cases — many involving fully vaccinated crew or passengers — on ships sailing from the U.S. between June 26 and Oct. 21. During that time, cruise lines said there were 49 hospitalizations and 38 medical evacuations due to covid-19 or covid-like illnesses, with one person dying after testing positive during a cruise.

“The resumption of passenger voyages in the U.S. has led to the introduction and sustained transmission of covid-19 among cruise ships, despite high vaccination rates among both crew and passengers,” the agency said in its report.

Hannah Sampson contributed to this story

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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