What was supposed to be a stylish and party-packed New Year’s celebration aboard the luxury MSC Splendida cruise ship in Brazil quickly spiraled into a COVID nightmare, with some 80 passengers and crew members testing positive for the virus during and immediately after the trip, according to the cruise line company MSC Cruises.
The MSC Splendida departed Brazil’s Port of Santos on Dec. 26, returning to the same port on New Year’s Day to drop off all 130 passengers, including guests who were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. The ship was scheduled to make multiple stops across the south of Brazil but following news of the outbreak was docked at Santos for the majority of the seven-day cruise, having spent New Year’s Eve on the open sea.
Speaking with The Daily Beast, Juliano Ribeiro, a São Paulo businessman who was a passenger on the ship, said it only took until Dec. 28—two days after the ship set sail with a new group of passengers—for cruise officials to announce that 14 people had tested positive for the virus.
Apparently, that wasn’t enough to merit a ship-wide lockdown for COVID-infected passengers.
“We were ported in Balneário Camboriú [on the 28th], and we knew something was going on because we saw people in [Hazmat suits] walking around,” Ribeiro, who himself tested positive for the virus just days after he left the ship, told The Daily Beast. “When we went back to Port of Santos they made an announcement that 14 people were infected. But the activities on the ship kept going as if nothing was happening… They then kept announcing that more people were testing positive but they didn’t give specific numbers.”
Ribeiro added that throughout the trip, passengers were allowed to roam freely through the vessel. “Pools, bars, casinos. Everything remained open,” he said.
Speaking with the Brazilian news outlet O Globo, one pregnant woman who had boarded the ship along with her husband said: “The elevators were always full… The crowd was frightening. The protocols were not respected, and there was a lack of sanitation gel and masks onboard.” Another passenger told the outlet that the situation “got totally out of control... They said there were few cases, but there were many.”
According to Ribeiro and other passengers who spoke with O Globo, cruise officials were slow to provide updates about the severity of the outbreak, giving only general updates that more passengers had tested positive after the initial announcement of 14 infections.
“We would just see it on the TV later. At times, the news channels stopped being broadcast on the [ship’s] TVs,” said Ribeiro. “Passengers would send clips to news outlets through their phones because they cut out all outside news in the ship.”
In a statement to O Globo, MSC Cruises, which had required guests to provide a negative COVID test within 24 hours of departure, said: “As part of our health monitoring routine, which includes frequent, daily testing of 10 percent of all the ship’s guests and crew… we identified a limited number of cases of COVID-19 among MSC Splendida guests and crew. As per protocol, we immediately isolated these people and their close contacts in a dedicated and separate section of the ship, away from all other passengers.”
Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) also released a statement saying that “those who tested positive must continue their quarantine on land, and will be monitored by the Strategic Information Centers on Health Surveillance.”
The MSC Splendida incident prompted ANVISA to temporarily halt cruises throughout the country, effective Monday.
Despite the virus fiasco, Ribeiro, who got married on an MSC vessel, said he’d remain “loyal” to the cruise line. “The problem is not with the cruise ships, it’s the Brazilians who wouldn’t wear masks when they were required to,” he said. “I’ve gone many times with this cruise line... They did not lose a client because of this.”
According to O Globo, COVID cases in Brazil have grown by 118 percent in the last two weeks, likely owing to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.