While a first wave of passengers left the Diamond Princess cruise ship on Feb. 19 after clearing a two-week quarantine, others, including a 59-year-old man and his wife, have no idea when they can disembark.
The man blames the spread of the deadly new coronavirus aboard on the belief that infected passengers and others not infected mingled on the ship and the delay in taking preventative measures.
He said for a few days after the ship’s arrival at Yokohama Port on Feb. 3, some of the passengers and crew members did not don masks and gloves.
“I got the impression that the passengers and the crew did not take seriously the risks of infection for a while after the ship’s arrival at Yokohama,” he said. “I am afraid that precautions against the infection were not thorough in some respects.”
On Feb. 19, about 450 passengers got off the ship moored at Yokohama Port after being cleared for the infection. The rest are expected to leave the Diamond Princess in the coming days.
The ship carried 3,711 people aboard, representing more than 50 countries. As of Feb. 19, 621 cases of infection were confirmed on the ship of 3,011 tested.
On Feb. 20, government sources announced that two male and female Japanese passengers in their 80s had died of the coronavirus after testing positive for the disease and being taken off the ship and hospitalized.
The first disembarkation followed an outcry from an infectious diseases expert who boarded the ship on Feb. 18 about deficiencies in the quarantine protocols.
Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University, cited the failure to distinguish green zones free of the coronavirus from red zones, which are potentially contaminated.
After 10 cases were confirmed on the Diamond Princess on Feb. 5, health authorities imposed a two-week quarantine.
As time passed, the number of passengers complaining of ill health surged, according to the 59-year-old male passenger.
“There were just too many patients for the doctors to handle,” he said.
When his wife ran a fever about 10 days ago, she walked to a medical center. But there were already seven or eight people waiting. She had to remain for about 30 minutes until she could be seen by a doctor.
As the couple’s cabin has no windows, they were allowed to go out on deck to grab some fresh air with other passengers once every few days.
But he said he was not aware that the ship was divided based on the risks of contracting the virus.
“I have never heard that the ship has been separated into zones depending on the risks,” he said.
On the staircases of each floor, stations containing disinfection solutions containing alcohol and rubber gloves were set up.
At the entrance to the deck, crew members waited for passengers to spray antiseptic solutions on their hands before letting them outside.
“I believe the crew did all they could do even though they were not infection control experts,” he said.
His anxiety is shared by crew members who are struggling to perform their duties in a difficult environment.
“I am working here, being fully aware of the risk of contracting the virus,” a Japanese female crew member in her 20s told her mother in a message she sent via a free communication app on Feb. 19.
According to the daughter, she wore masks provided by the Self-Defense Force after arriving at Yokohama Port and reused them for several days after washing them.
Crew members were tasked with guiding people whose infection was confirmed in the test, but the only gear they had to protect themselves against the disease were masks and rubber gloves.
Some of the employees could not stop coughing, and other crew members had to be taken to hospitals by ambulance. Crew members share cabins and eat together in a dining hall.
“I work with a sense of pride and mission, but I don’t know what to do,” the sobbing woman told her mother, who lives in the Kanto region, after calling her recently.
Koji Wada, a professor of public health at the International University of Health and Welfare, who boarded the ship to put measures in place against the infection, admitted the difficulty of carrying out infection control on a ship.
“It is undeniable that there were holes in managing (the danger zones and nondanger zones) when passengers and crew were inexperienced in containing an infection,” he said. “You cannot expect a ship to implement a thorough infection control like in a hospital. You would need a large number of professional individuals to do so aboard a ship. That would delay the deployment of anti-infection measures.”