A cruise company is charging passengers an eye-watering ‘consultation fee’ if they return a negative Covid-19 test at an onboard medical centre after falling ill on one of their ships.
The policy, which sees the charge waived if a passenger tests positive, can be revealed as Australia enters its peak season for cruising and Covid cases are suddenly soaring in every state and territory.
Sydney businessman Dennis Cohen was stunned when his 76-year-old father was told he would be slugged with a US$150 (AU$235) charge if he tested negative to Covid while cruising from Hawaii to his home city.
The pair sailed on Ovation of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean, last month and Mr Cohen’s father suffered from a sore throat about ten days into the 19-night $3,000 trip.
Dennis Cohen’s father was told he would have to pay US$150 for a Covid ‘consultation’ if his rapid antigen test came back negative while cruising from Hawaii to Sydney last month
Mr Cohen said his father visited the ship’s medical centre and requested a Covid rapid antigen test (RAT), largely for the protection of the other 3,500 passengers on the ship.
‘He didn’t think he had Covid but just wanted to do the right thing,’ Mr Cohen said.
Mr Cohen’s father was told the test kit, which costs as little as $5 in a chemist, was ‘complimentary’ and Royal Caribbean would pay for his treatment if he returned a positive result.
But if the test returned negative, he would be forced to pay a US$150 (AU$235) ‘consultation fee’ for a procedure any competent person could complete on their own and which usually took about 15 minutes.
‘He had a sore throat,’ Mr Cohen said. ‘He wasn’t going to pay US$150.
‘He just wanted to make sure 100 per cent he didn’t have Covid and give it to anybody else. That’s what annoys me.’
Mr Cohen’s father was sailing on Ovation of the Seas (pictured), operated by Royal Caribbean, last month when he suffered a sore throat about ten days into the 19-night trip
Mr Cohen’s father offered to take the RAT to his cabin and conduct the test himself, but was told it had to be done in the medical centre.
He declined to pay the fee and left without receiving any treatment.
‘It just sounded ridiculous,’ Mr Cohen said. ‘I rang them up and they confirmed that what my dad said was correct.’
Mr Cohen said if a Covid-positive passenger was deterred by the US$150 charge and chose not to be tested, the cruise ship company faced a far greater financial liability.
‘It is stupid and counterproductive money-wise,’ he said. ‘It just stank from every way you looked at it.
‘What they’re really doing is putting dollars in front of passengers’ safety and it’s not even dollars they’re saving – it’s going to cost them more money.
‘If someone has got Covid and can’t afford to risk the negative test they’re going to infect everybody else and Royal Caribbean are going to look after all their medical expenses.’
Mr Cohen’s father was told the test, which costs just $5 in a chemist, was ‘complimentary’ and Royal Caribbean would pay for his treatment – but only if it was positive. However, if the test returned negative, he would be forced to pay a US$150 ($235) ‘consultation fee’
Mr Cohen said the cruise company had a duty of care to its passengers and should provide Covid tests – regardless of whether they return positive or negative – for a nominal fee such as $10.
When he suggested that idea to a senior crew member on the ship that person said, ‘I’m with you’, and explained the current policy was a ‘corporate decision’.
‘I think what they’ve done is pretty disgusting,’ Mr Cohen said.
‘I don’t often complain about things but every way I look at this it just absolutely stinks. It annoys me and frustrates me when I think how dumb it is.
‘I really would like to get it out there and let people know what they’re getting themselves into before they get to the ship because to me it’s such a stupid policy.’
A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman confirmed passengers onboard its ships were charged a US$150 ‘doctor’s consultation fee’.
‘If a Covid test is positive, the charge is waived and if the test is negative, the guest will be treated for the cause of illness, which includes medication,’ the spokeswoman said.
‘We strongly advise all guests to take out travel insurance before sailing.’
A Royal Caribbean spokesman confirmed passengers were charged a US$150 ‘doctor’s consultation fee’ for a negative Covid test
Ovation of the Seas is a Quantum-class cruise ship which sails mainly from Seattle during the northern summer and Sydney in the southern summer season.
Passengers onboard Grand Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, have battled dual cases of gastro and Covid-19 since the vessel docked in Adelaide on Monday.
Anyone with either virus was not allowed to disembark and South Australian premier Peter Malinauskas said the Covid rate on Grand Princess was relatively in line with the rest of the community.
Grand Princess was due to sail to Melbourne on Wednesday.
There were 6,550 reported Covid cases across Australia last week, with the Department of Health and Aged Care confirming an average of 936 new cases per day.
In NSW, Covid activity increased ‘across all indicators’ in the past fortnight, with more than one in ten PCR tests returning a positive result.
With fewer people testing and information on self-reported RAT tests no longer being tested, the latest figures are likely to be significantly underestimated.