An Ontario couple confined to their room for almost two weeks on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship say they just want to come home.
Greg Yerex, 68, and Rose Yerex, 66, of Port Dover, Ont. told Global News Sunday night that they haven’t received details from the federal government since it announced a plan to evacuate the 255 Canadians on board the cruise ship currently stationed in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.
“The first email came through saying they were scheduled to depart Tuesday,” Rose said in a Skype interview with Global News.
“And then we got another email coming through that ‘Oops sorry, date and time to be confirmed.’”
The emails, which were seen by Global News, say Canadians showing symptoms will not be allowed to board the chartered plane, and that once they touch down in Canada they will be quarantined at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton for 14 days — which was also required for the Canadians evacuated from Wuhan earlier this month.
Confined to their room on the ship and on what they determined to be the thirteenth day of their quarantine period, they say they receive food from “gowned and gloved attendants” and pass the time chatting with people online, by reading or doing puzzles, or by wandering onto their balcony to chat with their friend in the room above them.
“But it’s very little contact of any type,” Greg said.
More than 350 people on the ship have tested positive for the virus, according to Japanese health officials, with 70 of those cases reported Sunday. In total, Japan has 413 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death. The ship is the site of the highest number of COVID-19 cases outside of China.
Hundreds of Americans from the ship took charter flights out of Japan on Sunday, and are expected to face another 14-day quarantine period when they land in the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy said the charters were offered because people on the ship were at a high risk of exposure to the virus. People with symptoms were banned from the charter flights. After evacuating their citizens, the U.S. State Department announced 14 of the passengers had tested positive for the disease but were allowed to board the plane because they hadn’t shown symptoms.
Greg said he and Rose, confined to their room on the starboard side of the ship, didn’t witness the evacuation but have been following news of it online.
“We can’t see anything,” Greg said.
Mainland China on Monday reported a slight increase in new cases and of the death toll, which rose by 105 for a total of 1,770 since the outbreak began in that country.
Global Affairs announced on Saturday night that it is chartering a plane for Canadians on board the ship, where some 3,700 passengers have been under quarantine since Feb. 3, after a man who left the ship in Hong Kong prior to its travel to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.
“This decision was taken because of the extraordinary circumstances faced by passengers on the Diamond Princess and to lighten the burden on the Japanese health-care system,” the Canadian government said in a statement Feb. 15.
Evacuated Canadians will be screened for symptoms before they board the charter plane from Japan to the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., where they will be assessed. They then enter a 14-day quarantine period at the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont.
Similar to the U.S. evacuation, if Canadian passengers show COVID-19 symptoms when assessed in Japan, they will not board the charter flight and will instead be “transferred to the Japanese health system to receive appropriate care.”
The departure date for the charter plane will be confirmed once plans are finalized with the Japanese government and the cruise ship company, Global Affairs told Global News on Sunday afternoon.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne tweeted Sunday night that the department’s consular team has been in touch with “all Canadians and their families on cruise and in hospital.”
“This is an extremely challenging situation and we are there to assist,” he tweeted.
The cruise ship company — Princess Cruises — said in an email Sunday to Global News that it will “continue to follow the direction of the Japanese Ministry of Health and as directed we will coordinate with the Canadian government and the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.”
An elderly couple from Quebec on the ship has tested positive for the virus. Both in their 70s, the two were confined to their cabin awaiting transport to a military hospital where they will be kept in isolation until they no longer test positive for the virus, their daughter Chantal Menard told The Canadian Press in an interview over the weekend.
Theresa Tam, chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said on Saturday that 15 Canadians on the ship have tested positive for the virus.
In the meantime, Greg and Rose are biding their time. Describing themselves as musicians who live an essentially retired life in Port Dover, Ont., the couple says they boarded the cruise ship in Singapore in early January thinking it would be a good way to escape the frigid Canadian winter season and see parts of Asia.
“We work hard to find some humour in every day and have a laugh and a glass of wine,” Greg said.
He added both he and Rose were swab-tested for the virus two days ago but haven’t heard the result yet.
“I just want to see an end to this,” he said. “That’s all. One way or another, I’m just — I’m tired.”
“The irony of it is that we may have finished the quarantine here for 14 days,” Rose said. “We may come out of it with flying colours. But now we still have to go through another 14 days when we get back to Canada.”
— With files by The Associated Press, Reuters