Cana­dian pas­sen­gers on Di­a­mond Princess des­per­ate to go home

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - AARON DERFEL The Cana­dian Press con­trib­uted to this report. ader­[email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/aaron_der­fel

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.

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/ AFP VIA GETTY IM­AGES

About 3,600 people are quar­an­tined on the Di­a­mond Princess cruise ship at a Ja­panese port due to the coro­n­avirus.

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