12 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Fears cruise ship quarantine may be extended

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 12 February 2020

Another wave of passengers infected with coronavirus have been taken off the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in quarantine in Yokohama.

Thirty-nine more people onboard have tested positive for the virus. The remaining 3700 passengers confined to their cabins are one week into a fortnight-long isolation.

Food is being dropped outside their doors and people in internal cabins are allowed onto the deck for extremely limited amounts of time.

Passenger Matthew Smith has been spending his quarantine time reviewing the delivered meals on Twitter and providing updates from the ship.

He told Checkpoint he understands once the 14 days are over and they are cleared, he and his wife will be free to return home to the United States. But he is worried as infection numbers rise, that rule may change.

"My only concern at this point is we keep finding more people, and there's always this tenor of near-panic out there and hysteria.

"It's just that uncertainty that we don't have a firm commitment yet, as far as the release date."

Smith has about one more week of quarantine, but fears the time may be extended.

"We've seen in the news that Japanese officials were discussing whether everyone should be tested before they're allowed out of quarantine, which wouldn't be a problem except that you're talking about 3600-plus throat swabs that have to be tested in the laboratory.

"It sounded to me like it would be logistically difficult for them to get enough laboratories to work on that without extending the quarantine."

Patients who are on board the Princess Diamond and who have been found to test positive for the novel coronavirus are taken to an ambulance.

Passengers on the Diamond Princess are halfway through a two-week isolation in Yokohama to guard against the spread of coronavirus.   Photo: AFP

No chats with others from balcony

Smith said he does not have a reason to think that will happen, but fears it is a possibility.

"We docked back in the pier this morning and the captain said for operational reasons... he turned the ship around this time so instead of facing the bay we're facing the pier. And we'll be able to see the disembarkation process.

"But from what I've seen on the news they have it all covered, and there's no way to see who [the infected passengers] are, and the Japanese keep the names confidential.

"Because we have a large balcony we're not among those that are rotated out onto the decks. If you go out on the balcony you can see the people above who are out on their balconies at the edge, you can see the people below.

"But I don't actually want to engage with anyone because, to me the idea was it's a quarantine and you need to stay in your cabin and keep separate from anyone.

"So we don't really want to, to get into close, even partial close contact with the people outside, so we haven't communicated with any of them. Some people do, some people stand out on the balconies and talk to each other.

"But I think I like the isolation because that's what makes the quarantine effective. "

Smith and his wife have been away from the US for more than a month so are missing some familiar foods like tacos, he said.

He has been talking with the US embassy in Japan and has been told they can travel on commercial flights without further quarantine.

Smith and his wife are planning to spend a couple of days in Tokyo before flying home, he said.

"It's kind of like having this decompression period before travelling off… I think okay we've been stuck in this cabin and do I really want to rush down to the airport and be stuck inside a plane for 11 hours?"