Canadian passengers on Diamond Princess desperate to go home
Canada is dispatching health officials to Japan to work with local authorities, but has stopped short of repatriating Canadian passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the epicentre of the largest coronavirus outbreak outside of China.
Montreal couple Bryan Doyle and Lucie Mauro, who are aboard the quarantined luxury liner, have launched a letter-writing campaign to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault to get them off the ship as soon as possible as the number of infections has climbed to 218 in less than two weeks.
Responding to pressure from the ship’s passengers, the Japanese government has announced some healthy guests might soon be allowed to disembark and finish their isolation in a special housing facility.
“That may be of great interest to the Japanese (passengers). But how do you know the conditions you will be moved to?” Doyle said by email.
Outside mainland China, authorities have reported more than 581 coronavirus infections around the world. However, one-third of those infections have occurred on the Diamond Princess.
What’s telling about the Diamond Princess — where 255 Canadians remain confined to their cabins — is the rapid rise in the number of infections since the Japanese government quarantined the vessel on Feb. 5.
On Feb. 6, authorities declared 20 coronavirus infections on the ship. The next day, the tally rose to 64. Three days later, it jumped to 130. By noon on Thursday in Japan, the total had surged to 218, including reportedly a Japanese health official who had boarded the ship to survey passengers and who is now in isolation, along with the more than 3,500 passengers and crew in the port of Yokohama.
The full extent of the contagion on the ship is not yet known as the
Japanese government has so far only tested 713 passengers and crew.
As Canadian officials expressed confidence in the Japanese government and Princess Cruises to manage the quarantine, public-health experts have begun to question the effectiveness of isolating people in the semi-enclosed environment of a large ship.
On Thursday, Japan’s minister of health, Katsunobu Kato, declared that two groups of passengers who have tested positive — individuals over the age of 80 and those in cabins without windows — will be moved to a medical facility ashore. That’s the first sign the quarantine hasn’t proceeded as well as planned. Japan has set Feb. 19 as the date the quarantine will be over, but some passengers are skeptical.
Responding to those concerns, the Diamond Princess announced on Thursday “those guests who (have) tested negative will be given the option of staying onboard or being disembarked and continue their quarantine in a housing facility managed by the government until their incubation period is over.”
Despite that announcement, the Montreal couple’s friends have continued their letter-writing campaign, arguing that the Canadian passengers should be given the same treatment as Canadian evacuees from China. The Canadian government has chartered two planes to fly those evacuees to a military base in Trenton, Ont., for a 14-day quarantine.
“Why can’t anyone see how ridiculous and scary this is getting?” asked Mauro, who boarded the ship with Doyle on Jan. 20.
On Thursday, a Global Affairs spokesperson referred a reporter to a federal government tweet that “some Canadians aboard the Diamond Princess may be transported to a different quarantine location,” but gave few other details.
About 3,600 people are quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship at a Japanese port due to the coronavirus.