Royal Caribbean, Norweigan cancel cruises amid omicron outbreak fears

Cruise ship anchored off the shore of Grand Cayman Island, Royal Caribbean cruise liner Mariner of the Sea and Carnival Cruise Liner, turning to return to sea. (Photo by: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As coronavirus cases surge worldwide related to the omicron variant, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line announced the cancellation of some sailings and a modified schedule for others.

According to a statement from Royal Caribbean, nine guests aboard the Spectrum of the Seas cruise on Jan. 2 were identified as close contacts to a local Hong Kong COVID-19 case.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s (HKSAR) Department of Health informed Royal Caribbean that the nine guests were quarantined and received a COVID test.  All nine individuals tested negative.

Royal Caribbean said they received information from the HKSAR about the close contacts on Jan. 4. 

The Spectrum of the Seas ship returned to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on Jan. 5 to allow guests and crew members aboard the ship to get tested for COVID-19. Crew members are required to get tested a second time on January 8.

Royal Caribbean said that guests who sailed on the cruise are getting a 25% refund, and individuals on Thursday’s Spectrum of the Seas cruise, which was also canceled, are receiving a full refund that includes pre-cruise purchases, taxes and fees.

Cruises on Spectrum of the Seas are available to Hong Kong residents, and officials say crew members and guests 12 years and older are required to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before sailing.

Guests must provide negative virus tests results and a "health declaration." Children sailing on the cruise who are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine also have to test negative.

Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States and seven other countries and held 2,500 passengers on the cruise ship for coronavirus testing Wednesday as the city attempted to stop an emerging omicron outbreak.

Hong Kong has reported 114 omicron variant cases with most being imported. Officials reported their first untraceable virus case on Tuesday in nearly three months, which authorities said was likely caused by the omicron variant.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line confirmed cancellations that impacted sailings on eight of its vessels with embarkation dates ranging from Jan. 5 through April 23. It noted "ongoing travel restrictions" for the reason of modifying or canceling voyages. 

"All guests booked on these sailings will receive an automatic full refund returned to the form of payment provided at the time of reservation as well as a bonus Future Cruise Certificate valid for a future cruise," the company said in a statement. "We understand the inconvenience and frustration this disruption may cause, and we appreciate the continued understanding of our loyal guests and travel agent partners."

In December, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship with at least 10 passengers and crew members infected with COVID-19 docked in New Orleans, where health officials said they were trying to disembark people without worsening the spread of the coronavirus illness.

Norwegian Cruise Line issued a statement last month that confirmed a "handful of COVID-19 cases among guests and crew." The company said all the identified cases involved people without symptoms of the illness.

According to the CDC’s website, as many as 89 vessels are color-coded orange or yellow — an even higher amount than what the CDC confirmed Wednesday. The CDC noted this number includes ships that are "crew only" or are no longer under active investigation.

Ship color is determined by surveillance data from the previous 7 days — regardless of voyage dates — and ships with orange or yellow status are currently being monitored or investigated.

According to the agency, cruise ships are allowed to relax certain onboard public health measures, such as mask use, if at least 95% of passengers and crew are fully vaccinated. However, the CDC continues to advise cruise ship operators to require masks indoors and in crowded outdoor areas regardless of vaccination status due to the increased transmissibility of variants and growing breakthrough COVID-19 cases.

The Associated Press and FOX KTVU contributed to this story

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.