The coronavirus has spread to dozens of countries and there are more than 67,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and over 1,520 deaths as of February 15. Many countries, including the U.S., have enacted strict border control measures in attempts to prevent the spread of the virus.
Passengers of the Princess Diamond cruise ship have been anchored off the coast of Japan, in the port of Yokohama, since February 4. The ship has been under quarantine since then, with passengers and crew getting screened for the virus. On February 13, with more and more cases being reported on the ship, the Japanese Ministry of Health approved voluntary disembarkation for passengers.
This voluntary disembarkation will take place in phases, Princess cruises explained in a statement, with the most “medically vulnerable passengers” disembarking first. The passengers who choose to get off the ship will then finish their quarantine in a Japanese medical facility.
The U.S. will be chartering a flight to take the Americans from the cruise ship back to the U.S. The letter sent from the Department of State to the roughly 380 Americans on board can be read here.
Here’s what you need to know about the Diamond Princess cruise ship:
1. There Are 218 Passengers Diagnosed With Coronavirus To Date
The Diamond Princess cruise ship arrived in Yokohama port off the coast of Japan on February 4. At that point, the Princess Cruises company announced that the Japanese Ministry of Health conducted a “first phase of health screening” for all crew and guests. Out of all the samples that had been tested, they were informed that 10 people tested positive for the coronavirus. Those 10 people were taken off the ship by the Japanese Coast Guard and brought to Japanese hospitals to receive treatment.
On February 5, Japanese media reported that 10 more people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total of infected passengers to 20. On February 6, Diamond Cruises confirmed that an additional 41 people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total up to 61 affected passengers and crew.
Since then, the number of infected people have continued to grow, and it is now at 218, making the Diamond Princess the largest center of coronavirus cases outside of mainland China.
2. The Infection Was Traced to a Passenger Who Disembarked in Hong Kong
The cause of the coronavirus outbreak on the cruise ship was traced to a specific passenger. According to an earlier update from the cruise company, a guest from Hong Kong boarded the cruise ship in Yokohama on January 20. He then disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25.
The statement continues, explaining that he went to a Hong Kong hospital six days later and received a positive coronavirus diagnosis on February 1. He is in stable condition and none of his traveling companions have exhibited symptoms of coronavirus. Princess Cruises confirms that “while on the ship he did not visit the ship’s medical centre to report any symptoms or illness.”
3. The Remaining Passengers Are Quarantined for 14 Days On Board
The company has confirmed that there are 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on the ship in total, “covering a range of nationalities.” About half of the guests are from Japan.
The U.S. Department of State told Heavy there are 428 U.S. citizens on board the Diamond Princess. They added that “the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is the Department of State’s highest priority, and we are in touch with relevant authorities and are providing all appropriate consular assistance. The U.S. Embassy Tokyo is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to provide assistance as the situation develops. Due to privacy considerations we cannot comment further.”
Princess Cruises has confirmed that the ship will be quarantined off the coast of Japan for a minimum of 14 days, which is the Japanese Ministry of Health requirement. While at port, the ship will receive the necessary food and provisions.
The following video was posted on YouTube by Rai Caluori, Executive Vice President of Princess Cruises, explaining the situation onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship:
The company has also made access to the internet and telephone complimentary for all guests so they can keep their families updated on the latest news. Guests have been asked to remain inside their cabins, but it’s unclear if they will have to remain in their cabins for the whole length of the quarantine.
A video of one area of the ship shows that it’s virtually empty, with a couple of crew members cleaning.
4. Passengers and Family Members Are Expressing Anxiety Online
Passengers are posting online frequently, especially updates about getting food, drink and medications. For the most part, it appears that staff has been quick to respond to their requests, and passengers are grateful for their work.
Many passengers were concerned about getting the necessary prescription medications for themselves or family members. The cruise company passed around prescription medication refill forms for those who needed it.
One passenger, David Abel, posted a video on Facebook expressing concern about how the quarantine would affect his diabetes. He added that crew members resolved the problem and are checking in on him.
On February 6, one passenger posted that the company was now distributing thermometers to all cabins. People are also being allowed out for fresh air in small groups with face masks being given to all.
5. It Is Not the First Cruise Ship Quarantined Due to the Coronavirus
CNBC reported on February 5 that passengers on the World Dream cruise ship were being quarantined off the coast of Hong Kong. This decision was made after 30 crew members reported minor symptoms during health screenings. Three of these crew members who had fevers were sent to local hospitals for coronavirus testing. In the meantime, all passengers were asked to stay on board the ship.
In a similar case, the Costa Smeralda with Costa Cruises was quarantined off the coast of Italy after a passenger from Hong Kong was suffering from a fever. The Costa Smeralda had about 7,000 passengers and crew on board, as reported by CNN. The tests came back negative so passengers were eventually able to disembark.
Princess Cruises has announced they will cancel the next two cruises out of Yokohama, departing February 4 and 12, in light of the quarantine notice. They have also put in place new measures for future cruises to prevent a similar incident taking place, including a ban on guests who have traveled through China in the past 14 days and pre-boarding health screening.