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Monday, February 24, 2020

Coronavirus outbreak: ‘I keep hearing painful coughs’ — Life on quarantined cruise ship in Japan

As Japanese health officials concluded the screening of the 273 passengers who were potentially exposed to the virus, they said that 61 had tested positive.

By: New York Times | Published: February 7, 2020 8:39:59 am
Coronavirus outbreak: ‘I keep hearing painful coughs’ — Life on quarantined cruise ship in Japan Cruise ship Diamond Princess is seen anchored off the Yokohama Port, after ten people on the cruise liner have tested positive for coronavirus in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan. (Reuters)

Written by Isabella Kwai

Things were looking up on Thursday for the more than 2,000 passengers quarantined on a cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan: Meals were coming on a more regular schedule. The internet was upgraded to a wider bandwidth. And there was even official approval to breathe some fresh air.

Still, on the second day of a planned two-week quarantine, there was persistent concern about the spreading coronavirus and dread about long days ahead stuck inside the cabins.

As Japanese health officials concluded the screening of the 273 passengers who were potentially exposed to the virus, they said that 61 had tested positive.

The first 10 cases were announced on Wednesday, and the second 10 on Thursday. The new cases involved four Japanese passengers, two Americans, two Canadians, one New Zealander and one Taiwanese. They were removed from the ship on Thursday and taken to medical facilities.

“I keep hearing painful coughs from a foreigner in a nearby room,” one passenger wrote on Twitter, noting with concern that crew members were delivering meals from room to room. “I might get infected today or tomorrow.”

Other passengers who have been whiling away some of the time on social media told of more hopeful signs. One noted that supplies were being moved into the port and that ambulances were in position. Another said that entertainment crews had been calling guest rooms to cheer people up, and that toilet paper had been distributed.

Some posted a letter that had been delivered to their rooms saying that the ship was negotiating with Japanese quarantine officials to allow small groups with face masks to breathe air on open decks.

“I am so looking forward to it,” said Yardley Wong, a passenger in a windowless room who is traveling with her 6-year-old son. She said permission had been granted, with those in windowless rooms like hers allowed out first.

The cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, with a total of about 3,700 people on board, arrived in Yokohama on Monday night after a 14-day trip to Southeast Asia. They have been forced to stay on the vessel since an 80-year-old Hong Kong man who disembarked last month tested positive for the virus.

Princess Cruises, the company that owns the Diamond Princess, has canceled two other planned cruises on the ship departing from Yokohama this month.

The Diamond Princess is not the only cruise ship caught up in the coronavirus epidemic, which has killed hundreds of people in China. A ship called the World Dream is idling in the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong after eight people from mainland China who were on a previous journey were found to be infected with the coronavirus.

The World Dream, which is carrying about 3,600 passengers and crew members, had traveled from China to Vietnam in January. It is being held in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor as health officials test passengers, and a top official said a quarantine of the entire ship had not been ruled out.

In Japan, fears were growing in places where the Diamond Princess had made port calls before returning to Yokohama.

Health officials in Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture, said that 13 people had left the ship there last Saturday and not returned. Some have left the country.

The 2,600 passengers who disembarked for at least a few hours on Saturday “did not display symptoms at the quarantine screen station,” said Takahiro Hayamizu, an official at the Naha public health office. “We don’t have detailed information on who they were, so we cannot track down their route in Okinawa.”

Passengers traveled by buses and taxis after arriving in Okinawa, and officials are trying to trace their routes.

“Citizens are concerned and wondering what to do, saying they met passengers at the port,” Hayamizu said.

On board the Diamond Princess, there have been no further health checks since quarantine officers first came on board, said David Abel, a passenger from Britain who has been chronicling his situation in videos posted on Facebook.

“We do not know if there are people on board still that have got symptoms,” he said.

Although the passengers were a long way from going home, there was a sense among some that the vacation was over. Towels and bedsheets were no longer being changed on a regular basis.

“We’re no longer on a cruise,” Abel said. “Those days are gone.”

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