Over 3,700 people on a luxury cruise ship now docked in Yokohama, Japan, are trapped aboard, with guests confined to their cabins for the remainder of 14-day quarantine after the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) joined them at sea.
According to reports from Japan, health officials there conducted the “first phase” of screening this week, testing 273 people aboard the liner—named Diamond Princess—for the viral respiratory infection, which is currently causing an explosive outbreak in China.
On Tuesday, February 4, officials confirmed that 10 people had tested positive, including two Australian guests, three Japanese guests, three guests from Hong Kong, one American guest, and one Filipino crew member. They were escorted off the ship for treatment at local hospitals. None of the cases are serious, Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Katō said.
By Wednesday, officials reported that 10 additional people had tested positive. Those people, too, have been escorted off the ship for medical treatment.
The 20 positive cases were identified among results for just 102 people tested. The other 171 people tested so far are still awaiting their results.
Officials were clued into 2019-nCoV’s presence on the ship after a guest from Hong Kong tested positive on land. The man boarded the liner January 20 in Yokohama, sailed the first segment of the 14-day round-trip voyage, and disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25. There, he tested positive for the coronavirus on February 1, according to Princess Cruise Lines, which operates Diamond Princess and is owned by British-American cruise operator Carnival.
Diamond Princess returned to Yokohama earlier than its February 4 scheduled arrival, and the cruise line canceled upcoming voyages amid the health screening.
The people screened for 2019-nCoV so far have been people with infection symptoms and/or those known to have contact with that guest.
It’s unclear if the 20 cases identified so far are all linked to the initial case or if additional people may have carried the virus on board. As of February 4, the initial infected guest from Hong Kong was said to be in stable condition. The family members traveling with him were symptom-free.
Princess Cruise Line did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Ars, including a list of detailed questions about the cases.
For now, passengers are biding their time cooped up in their cabins while crew members scramble to figure out how to feed and entertain 3,711 quarantined people for 14 days. Princess Cruise Lines has offered refunds and credits and made Wi-Fi and telephone services free for the captive passengers.
Many who have communicated with media report a frustrating lack of communication with staff, problems with food service, and shortages of supplies, such a diapers. Some reported breakfast arriving to their cabin at nearly 2pm, worrying passengers with diabetes who need to eat regularly. Others said they were given ham sandwiches with stale bread for lunch, a significant step down from the normal fare on luxury liners.
One passenger who spoke with The Washington Post said he was glad that at least his cabin had a balcony so he could see outside and get fresh air. He expressed sympathy for his fellow passengers who were not so lucky. “Can you imagine? It would be liked being locked in a wardrobe, wouldn’t it?” he said. “No fresh air. No natural light. It really must be a living hell for them.”
Off the boat, fear is reportedly growing in Japan over the guests who left the ship on other stops before the ship was quarantined. Thirteen passengers disembarked in Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, and some of those guests left the country.
Another cruise ship, the World Dream, carrying about 3,600 passengers from China to Vietnam, is being held in Hong Kong for health screening.
Meanwhile, coronavirus outbreak overall continues to ravage China and spread to other countries. As of February 6, there are reports of 28,353 cases worldwide and 565 deaths. Of those, 265 cases have been identified in more than two dozen countries and regions outside of mainland China.