Diamond Princess cruise ship forced into quarantine off coast of Yokohama

Photo courtesy of CNN.

By Ellyn Fritz || Staff Writer

When most people think of a cruise, tropical weather, palm trees, and unlimited amenities come to mind – not necessarily a fourteen-day quarantine. For the passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, retirement and birthday celebrations quickly lost their excitement when a case of the coronavirus was confirmed in a guest offshore who had previously traveled on the Diamond Princess on February 1st. The guest had traveled one five-day segment of the Diamond Princess’ fourteen-day itinerary and was diagnosed with the coronavirus in a local Hong Kong hospital six days after disembarking the ship in Yokohama. 

On February 4th, Princess Cruises decided to cancel the next voyage of the Diamond Princess for the Japan Ministry of Health to complete their comprehensive review of the health status of all guests and crew, which revealed ten positive tests of the coronavirus from guests. Those infected were transported to on-shore hospitals by a Japanese Coast Guard watercraft, while the ship was required to remain in Yokohama under quarantine for fourteen days by the Ministry of Health. 

According to Princess Cruises’ daily statements in regards to the quarantine, “Princess Cruises will refund the full cruise fare for all guests including air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities, and other items. In addition, guests will not be charged for any onboard incidental charges during the additional time onboard.” Additionally, “[Diamond Princess] has added additional live TV channels and a large selection of in-room movies available in multiple languages. The cruise activities staff is packaging games, puzzles and trivia and delivering them to guest staterooms.” 

Despite the enhanced guest experience, their efforts to quarantine did not prove effective. Within the first four days of the official quarantine, over one-hundred guests tested positive for the coronavirus. However, as of February 18th, 542 cases of the virus had been identified among the 3,711 quarantined passengers and crew, making the ship the site of the most infections outside of China, according to USA TODAY.

Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist at Kobe University, posted a scathing youtube video about his visit to the ship on February 18th, stating, “The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of the infection control… There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection, and the red zone, which is potentially contaminated by the virus.” Iwata was in Africa during the Ebola outbreak, in China in 2003 to help with SARS, and has traveled to various countries to provide assistance with cholera. He said that he was not fearful of acquiring those diseases as the patients and doctors knew how to properly protect themselves from the diseases. However, Iwata was fearful of becoming infected with the coronavirus onboard the ship because guests and patients were not properly protecting themselves within the quarantine.Iwata stated that the situation was “completely chaotic,” mentioning one scenario where one medical officer had seemingly given up protecting herself and others, believing she was likely already infected.

February 19th was the final day of the quarantine and the first day of the disembarkation process.Although the passengers finally got to leave the ship for the first time in two weeks, the Diamond Princess’ passengers were met with a confusing and frustrating array of circumstances.

Passengers, who had about two hours of fresh air during their time on the ship, are being required to undergo another two week period of quarantine upon arrival in their home country – reflecting the lack of trust their governments have about the cruise ship quarantine›s effectiveness.  

The United States, Canada, Australia, and Hong Kong are arranging for their citizens to travel home via charter flights this week, Princess Cruises said in an update on February 19th. All of those governments are requiring a second quarantine, the cruise line says. 

The U.S. government brought more than 300 American passengers back to the U.S. on chartered repatriation flights early this week.

Those passengers are now undergoing new quarantine at military bases in California and Texas, and fourteen of them have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in hospitals.

Sophomore Ellyn Fritz is a staff writer. Her email is efritz@fandm.edu.

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