On a giant cruise ship that measures 205 feet tall and spans nearly 1,000 feet long, being confined to a windowless cabin is not an ideal vacation.
The Diamond Princess is stuck in the port city of Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, while health workers monitor a coronavirus outbreak among passengers and crew.
So far, ten passengers have tested positive for the respiratory illness sweeping China — two Australians, three Japanese, three people from Hong Kong, one from the United States, and a Filipino crewmember. The patients were covered head-to-knee with large, white sheets and taken ashore on Coast Guard vessels on Wednesday where they were transported to local hospitals.
Tests were pending on at least 273 other passengers who had symptoms of the new virus or close contact with one of the passengers diagnosed.
The rest of those on board face a two-week quarantine while Japanese health officials work around the clock to monitor for new cases and suppress any further spread.
The quarantine will be “up to” 14 days, according to Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, as is in line with Japanese law, but could stretch longer.
For the 3,700 people stuck on the ship, there is little to do.
David Abel, 74, and his wife are in a cabin with windows and a balcony but acknowledged that not everyone is so lucky.
“I guess a lot of passengers will get bored, especially if they’re in an inside cabin… I feel for them very much,” Abel said in a Facebook video from his room.
“They don’t have natural light, no window to look out of, they don’t have fresh air, just circulated air conditioning. Here, we have a balcony and a slightly larger stateroom, that is an absolute blessing for us and I’m really grateful this is what I booked.”
From his balcony, he could see ships docking next to the cruise ship with fuel and supplies, preparing for the two-weeks of being idle on the ocean.
Food is already a huge draw for luxury cruisers. Now, it’s become the daily main event.
With restaurants and buffets closed, meals are being delivered to each room — sometimes intermittently. Some passengers have complained about large gaps in time between meals.
“The meals have completely changed,” according to Abel. “We’re definitely no longer on a luxury cruise. Having a choice from the menu? Those days are over.”
A toasted sandwich, some fruit or dessert and juice are part of a typical delivery, he said. While that might work for most people, Abel’s situation is different. Being diabetic and lactose intolerant, he says the food offered so far hasn’t always met his needs. Luckily, he brought an extra 30-days worth of insulin, he said.
“Don’t think I’m sounding ungrateful — I’m not. I’m so grateful they’re taking care of us, it’s just such a contrast from the first two weeks.”
Other people purporting to be on the ship are passing time with television and movies.
Princess Cruises also tweeted Tuesday that all guests and crew would get access to Wifi free of charge to “get in touch with their loved ones.”
Of those left on board, 251 are Canadian. Global News has so far been unable to make contact with any of the Canadians onboard.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian officials are working with their Japanese counterparts on the matter to determine how to provide additional support.
“We’re trying to get more information about the situation right now,” he told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We want to reassure the families on the cruise ship that we are alert and engaged on their issue.”
Figures as of Feb. 5 show nearly 25,000 people sickened and at least 494 dead, most of which were in Wuhan where the virus is believed to have first emerged.
Canada, so far, has five confirmed cases.
Trudeau reiterated that the risk for Canadians to contact the virus “is low.”
As for the rest of the ship? It’s virtually abandoned.
Aside from suited health officials and the odd cruise ship employee, the decks and hallways appear empty.
One person on board has been tweeting often in Japanese, posting videos and photos on Feb. 4 of nearly barren dining rooms and lounges.
He expressed fear that the number of people infected onboard could grow.
“As for myself, I am going to assume that I have already been infected,” he tweeted, as per an online translation.
The Diamond Princess isn’t the only cruise ship struggling amid the global outbreak.
The World Dream Cruise carrying about 3,600 people was denied entry in Taiwan amid concerns of conoravirus. It’s currently docked at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong, China where it will be quarantined until it can be screened for the virus.
–With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian PressView link »