The quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess left the Yokohama docks Saturday to resume cruising after sending ashore six more passengers to be tested for the new coronavirus. Three of those were found to be infected, bringing the total to 64, according to Japan’s health ministry.
The ship’s captain, in an announcement that was recorded by a passenger, identified one of the three as a US citizen; another, Chinese. At the time of the announcement the captain apparently did not yet know of the third.
The ship had arrived off Yokohama last Monday with some 3,700 passengers and crew members. The Diamond Princess was quarantined because a former passenger, who had disembarked in Hong Kong, was diagnosed with the virus. It docked Thursday at Yokohama for resupply. Ambulances loaded ill passengers and took them to hospitals.
With the resupply completed, on Saturday the ship left the docks for further cruising in open waters where it could use its machinery to generate fresh water. It was scheduled to return to the docks at 9 am Sunday.
Gay and Phil Courter, documentary filmmakers from Florida who are among the quarantined passengers and who were the subject of an Asia Times story published Friday, said Saturday that the food was good and improving.
“The crew have been terrific, and we’d like to thank them for their tireless service,” the couple told Asia Times in an email. “It’s important to remember that the crew, who have much tighter packed quarters, are also at risk. These people signed on to be in the service industry and are not trained to work in potentially infectious environments like health care workers are trained to do. Health and safety is critical for all aboard.”
The Courters provided a summary of the captain’s announcement over the ship’s audio system:
28 shoreside medical staff just added to vessel
7000 face masks brought on board
Medical staff will check guests who have reported high temperatures
Working on procedure for cleaning staterooms
Working on approval to have laundry cleaned
Trying to organize designated smoking area and providing nicotine gum
Reminder to check temperature and report if above 37.5 degrees Centigrade
Uploading new movies to entertainment system, including a new video with information about the coronavirus
The Courters also passed along a message from American diplomats dated Saturday morning:
“February 8, 2020
“U.S. Embassy Tokyo
“MESSAGE TO U.S. CITIZEN DIAMOND PRINCESS PASSENGERS
“The U.S. Embassy and the Department of State continue to closely monitor the situation and to coordinate with the Government of Japan, as well as representatives from the cruise line, to ensure the well-being and safety of passengers. We have no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad.
“Current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that the safest and most reliable way to prevent further spread of viral infections on cruise ships is for passengers to shelter in place, as passengers on the Diamond Princess are doing. Per current information from CDC and the Government of Japan, after passengers finish their 14-day quarantine period they will be permitted to depart Japan on commercial flights, which are readily available, and will not be subject to additional quarantine upon return to the United States.
“The Embassy would like to remind the passengers of the Diamond Princess of the following:
“If you require medical attention or are running low on medication: Please contact the medical center on the ship. For medication requests, please provide the medical center on the ship with the following information: 1) nationality; 2) name; 3) phone and other contact info; 4) room number; 5) medical condition; 6) name of medicine and dosage, and 7) how many doses you still have on hand. We recommend you notify the medical center as soon as possible to avoid running out. We were advised that medication was delivered to the Diamond Princess before the ship went back out to sea and that medication will continue to be delivered to passengers today, February 8. If you do not receive your medication, please notify the Embassy.
“If you or a loved one has been taken to a hospital: Please let us know by either sending an email to USGShipContact@state.gov or calling us at (+81) 3-3224-5000 and asking for American Citizen Services. Please provide the U.S. citizen’s name, date of birth, passport number, and the name of the hospital (if known). Under the terms of the Privacy Act of 1974, we may be limited or unable to provide updates without the written permission of the affected U.S. citizen.
“For more information on the Coronavirus: For the most up-to-date information and guidance regarding this disease outbreak, U.S. citizens in Japan are advised to consult the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC.
“For more information on quarantines and cruise ships: Please refer to the Centers for Disease Control, which has published guidance on this issue at https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/cruise/management/guidance-cruise-ships-influenza-updated.html.
“Stay Connected: Follow U.S. Embassy Tokyo American Citizen Services on Twitter and Facebook. Our dedicated U.S. Embassy email address for passengers and family members — USGShipContact@state.gov. Carnival has established a family assistance hotline in the United States: 1-800-693-7222.
“Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): The Embassy strongly recommends that all U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Japan enroll in STEP. For more information on STEP, please click here.
Passengers beg to differ
The Courters took issue with the Embassy and the CDC in a statement:
“The Diamond Princess just experienced the largest outbreak of coronavirus outside of China. Although infected passengers have been evacuated, the air ventilation system onboard has likely been re-circulating the airborne virus, creating the potential of a disaster as memorable as Legionnaires.
“We are worried that re-circulating air may be transmitting a virus to those who are not yet sick, therefore the only safe choice is to remove all passengers to a land based quarantine where air is not recirculated.
“How many more people need to be evacuated before it becomes appropriate to get everyone off the ship?
“We can draw no definitive conclusions about new cases, but no one can prove recirculated air is not the method of spreading.
“The Japanese government is denying the passengers the ability to transfer a safer quarantine. The State Department is deferring to the Japanese government.”