Fear, boredom and adventure fill each day on quarantined cruise ship
13 February 2020, 16:04
The Diamond Princess is quarantined in a Japanese port.
Passengers and crew on board a quarantined cruise ship have told how their days are filled with a mixture of fear, surprising moments of levity and boredom.
Life on the Diamond Princess, which is quarantined in a Japanese port with scores of cases of coronavirus, means experiencing all these things.
Social media posts and interviews given by those on board suggest that at times there is an almost festive atmosphere, as when locals on jet skis buzz the ship, shouting greetings.
Other times, there is deep concern, such as on the days when new cases of the illness are confirmed. One passenger who became ill described the initial terror of being whisked to a hospital while covered in protective plastic, but also of the surprisingly mild symptoms.
The days pass with petty frustrations and inconveniences — tiny rooms, dirty sheets, boring food — and difficult work for the hundreds of crew members.
With the number of those ill increasing, there is also a nagging doubt about whether this kind of quarantine works. Some experts question if keeping more than 3,500 passengers and crew in such close quarters might spread Covid-19.
However, for some it seems they feel like they are still on holiday – despite being quarantined.
Cheryl and Paul Molesky, from Syracuse, New York, can be seen in their YouTube videos lounging, often in plush bathrobes, on their balcony, enjoying the sweeping views of a glittering, sun-streaked ocean and, on occasion, snow-capped Mount Fuji.
“We try to have an upbeat presentation and make sure that our attitude comes across that we’re not hurt, we’re not in pain … we’re actually just enjoying ourselves,” said Mr Molesky, a 78-year-old potter. “It’s been very nice.”
There was the time a man came to the docks in a Spider-Man costume and played music for an hour and a half to the delight of the passengers.
And the time, early in the quarantine, when eight people on jet skis cruised up, yelling out “welcome” and playing music. The passengers clapped and waved from their balconies.
The ship, which has 17 decks, has upped its internet service, and Mrs Molesky spends several hours each day answering emails and texts and editing their YouTube videos.
“Now that we’re here in quarantine we’re getting so much attention. We never get that much attention at home,” said the 59-year-old retired art and media teacher.
There is definite concern each time a new batch of confirmed cases is announced. But, she said: “Rather than just sit here and worry about, are we going to get the coronavirus, we decided to make the most of every day, and just forget about that for now. If it happens, it happens.”
Elsewhere on the ship, a Japanese man in his thirties who refused to give his name because of privacy concerns said he spends his days mostly taking photos of each meal and posting them anonymously on Twitter.
“All I can do is to wait and tweet,” he said.
The ship has a sushi restaurant, Japanese-style bath and theatre, but passengers are now mostly confined to their rooms. Many cabins are as small as, if not smaller, than many hotel rooms.
More affordable rooms on the ship are not much wider than a double bed and do not have much seating space aside from a desk chair, according to pictures posted in the ship’s website.
The cheapest ones do not even have windows. Many balcony rooms are around 222 square feet or less, according to the website. A lot of the interior rooms, which feature large mirrors in place of a window, are only 158 to 162 square feet.
Guests must often change their own sheets, clean their bathrooms and do their own laundry because contact with the crew has been limited since the first 10 cases were confirmed on board.
The days often revolve around food service. Knocking on four doors at once, an elaborate delivery choreography takes place: One masked and gloved crew member hands out the plates, another the silverware, while another checks off names and room numbers.
The boat has added more movies and TV channels to try to help with the boredom. People without balconies are allowed to walk on the deck an hour each day, as long as they keep two metres apart. Passengers chat and wave to each other from their balconies.
Meanwhile, in a recent video posted on Twitter, a group of men wearing Diamond Princess jackets, masks and what appear to be the uniforms of kitchen workers stood before a camera saying: “We are scared.”
A man identified as crew member Binay Kumar Sarkar said after removing his mask: “We should be rescued immediately and reunited with our families before it is too late.”
Some of the crew members who have tested positive for the virus are restaurant, bar or housekeeping staff who probably had contact with passengers until February 5 when the first test results were released and restaurants and bars were closed.
“Until the quarantine started, everything was business as usual, and everyone was freely moving around on board, so there are various possibilities of infection during that time,” said Kazuho Taguchi, director of global health cooperation at the health ministry.
Crew members still share rooms, as the number of cabins for them is limited, Mr Taguchi said.
Authorities in Japan say isolating people on board is the way to prevent the disease’s spread; other experts say the measure could create more infection.
For some, the fear might be worse than the virus.
On Thursday, an Australian mother and daughter wearing face masks told Australia’s Nine Network television from a Japanese hospital that officials took them off the ship after the daughter tested positive for coronavirus.
“They put me in, like, a wheelchair, sort of, and put like a plastic — almost like a bubble around it — and they were just wheeling me everywhere,” said the daughter, Bianca D’Silva.
Student Bianca, 20 and her mother, Suzanne, said they were both briefly ill, but feel fine now.
“Honestly, it just felt like your everyday cold. Like, I feel absolutely fine now, physically,” Bianca said. “I had a bit of headache before and just a slight fever but that’s about it, honestly.”