Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas returning home early as 250 fall ill

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    Oasis of the Seas hit with Norovirus
    Florida Today

    One of the world’s largest cruise ships is returning to its home port a day ahead of schedule after an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness.

    Royal Caribbean’s 18-deck-high, 1,186-foot-long Oasis of the Seas will be back at its dock in Port Canaveral, Florida, by Saturday morning instead of Sunday morning as originally planned. The ship, which has been sailing in the Caribbean, is skipping a call planned for Friday in Cozumel, Mexico, to get home earlier.

    More than 250 passengers and crew on Oasis have experienced symptoms of a norovirus-like illness since the vessel departed Port Canaveral on Sunday. 

    Highly contagious with a short incubation period, norovirus causes diarrhea and vomiting that typically lasts for one to three days. It’s sometimes called the “stomach flu,” although it is unrelated to influenza.

    The illness sometimes is brought onto cruise ships by passengers at embarkation.

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    In a statement sent to USA TODAY, Royal Caribbean noted only 3.3 percent of passengers and crew on Oasis have come down with the illness. The vessel holds more than 6,000 passengers and sails with a crew of more than 2,000.

    Still, many on board are worried about catching it. 

    “We think the right thing to do is to get everyone home early rather than have guests worry about their health,” Royal Caribbean said in the statement. “Returning on Saturday also gives us more time to completely clean and sanitize the ship before her next sailing.”

    The decision comes after officials in Jamaica on Wednesday were slow to allow passengers off Oasis, cutting into the time passengers had for touring.

    Royal Caribbean said it would give everyone on the ship a full refund for the voyage, a seven-night trip to the Caribbean.

    “Our guests sail with us to have great vacations, and we are sorry this cruise fell short,” the line said. 

    At 225,282 tons, Oasis was for a time the world’s biggest cruise ship. Unveiled in 2009, it now is surpassed by three slightly bigger sister vessels, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. 

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    Unique in the cruise world, the four vessels each are more than 20 percent larger than the next largest cruise ship. 

    The number of outbreaks of norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships has been declining in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded just 10 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships in 2018 – the second lowest level since 2001. 

    Cruise lines in recent years have stepped up efforts to get passengers to wash their hands frequently while on board ships and use sanitizing gel. Lines also have adopted rigorous cleaning regimes. 

    A common “stomach bug” that is widespread across America in the winter, norovirus hits about 19 to 21 million Americans each year, according to the CDC.

    Contributing: J.D. Gallop, Florida Today 

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