- The Diamond Princess cruise ship went from having 10 cases of the novel coronavirus to more than 700 over the course of its two-week quarantine and the testing that followed.
- Experts and officials have criticised the decision to keep people on the ship and many poor hygiene practices on board.
- Here’s how the cruise ship quarantine went so wrong.
- For the latest case total, death toll, and travel information, see Business Insider’s live updates here.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship got their first piece of bad news on February 4: 10 people on board had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
It was the beginning of a nearly month-long ordeal of quarantine orders and disease response that has been widely criticised as a failure. As of Friday, Japan’s Ministry of Health reported that 705 people from the ship had contracted the virus, as well as one quarantine officer who worked on the ship. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that 44 passengers flown back to the US had tested positive.
Six people who were on the ship have died.
“The quarantine was not justified, and violated the individual rights of the passengers while allowing the virus to literally pick them off one-by-one,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, who works at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, told Business Insider in an email.
Adalja and other experts have criticised the decision to keep passengers and crew on the ship and said poor hygiene practices helped spread the virus.
“I’d like to sugarcoat it and try to be diplomatic about it, but it failed,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA Today. “People were getting infected on that ship. Something went awry.”
Here’s how it got so bad.
On February 1, a man who’d been on the Diamond Princess tested positive for the coronavirus six days after leaving the ship. The cruise docked in the port of Yokohama, Japan, three days later.
The man, who is from Hong Kong, boarded the ship in Japan and stayed for five days, then disembarked in his hometown.
When it docked in Yokohama, the ship had 3,711 crew members and guests.
According to The New York Times, it took Japanese officials more than 72 hours to lock down the ship after they were notified about the Hong Kong man’s case.
By the following morning, 10 people on the ship had tested positive for the virus. Japan’s Ministry of Health placed the entire boat under a 14-day quarantine.
Passengers had already been on the ship for two weeks because the quarantine came at the end of their scheduled cruise.
Japanese health officials tested passengers and transported those who tested positive to health facilities on land.
However, testing takes a day or more because it involves collecting and submitting spit and mucus samples.
Spencer Fehrenbacher, an American grad student on the ship, told Business Insider he experienced a “wall for information” about test results. He said on February 6 that he had been waiting to get his own results for two days. He eventually learned that he tested negative.
Other passengers reported long delays in getting tested at all, even after they reported symptoms.
From the beginning, those quarantined on the ship reported confusion and a lack of information.
“There wasn’t much information,” passenger Masako Ishida told The New York Times on February 5. She said many passengers did not immediately understand that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Passengers tallied the ambulances lined up on the pier to get a sense of how many infections had been confirmed on the ship,The New York Times reported.
Fehrenbacher told Business Insider that he stood very close to a woman who was clearly sick when he got his medical screening.
“You could hear that cough that’s deep down in your lungs. I empathized with her and felt so bad,” Fehrenbacher said. But he said he also recalled thinking to himself, “OK, I don’t want to be in this room.”
Ishida also reported concerns about the screenings: “They didn’t put the thermometer into our ears properly,” she said.
She said her husband’s first temperature measurement was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the normal body temperature. When she asked for a second measurement, it was 95 degrees.
Ishida added that meals had been chaotic in the first days as well, with breakfast arriving at 2 p.m., quickly followed by lunch.
Three days into the quarantine, people on the ship began unfurling signs that read “Lack of medicine” and “Thank you, media.”
On February 11, a crew member told passengers that as many as 1,850 people on board (who had not expected to be on the ship for so long) had requested and received more prescription medications.
Passengers were confined to their rooms, the least expensive of which have no windows or balconies.
Honeymooners Alan and Wendy Steele told The Washington Post that they were going “stir crazy” on February 5.
“We’re basically being treated like we’re prisoners and criminals at the moment; that’s how we feel,” Alan Steele said. He added that lunch on the first day had been stale bread with ham.
The next day, the ship’s operator, Princess Cruises, said it had “activated new in-room entertainment offerings,” including games, trivia, arts and crafts, movies, eight new TV channels, and newspapers printed in 36 languages.
Passengers tweeted pictures of their meals and gave the room service mixed reviews.
— Shannon (@shannonvo) February 10, 2020
They also received bottle water and alcohol.
“We began to live for meal times,” Rachel Torres, another honeymooner on the ship, wrote in a commentary in The Dallas Morning News.
“We developed a system,” she wrote. “When we heard the carts roll down the hallway, we rushed to put on masks, swing the balcony door open, and fling the door to the hallway open for meal collection so our friends in inside staterooms across the hallway could feel some fresh air and sunshine.”
Passengers were given face masks.
You'll all be glad to know that we have been supplied with face masks for any occasion. In-cabin formal night anyone? pic.twitter.com/4tCbwXegOD
— Matthew Smith (@mjswhitebread) February 10, 2020
The masks are not great at preventing wearers from contracting the novel coronavirus, but they may help keep sick people’s germs from passing to others.
Those in the interior windowless cabins were allowed to walk around the deck for a few minutes each day with face masks on.
Officials advised passengers to stay 6 feet apart from each other.
Experts criticised the decision to keep people on the ship.
“From a virologist’s perspective, a cruise ship with a large number of persons on board is more an incubator for viruses rather than a good place for quarantine,” Anne Gatignol, a microbiologist who studies viruses at McGill University, told the Montreal Gazette.
Keeping people in a confined space may have helped the virus spread.
“They have basically trapped a bunch of people in a large container with [the] virus,” David Fisman, an epidemiology professor at the University of Toronto, told Vox. “So [I’m] assuming ‘quarantine’ is generating active transmission.”
“Cruise ships are made of surfaces that are really sticky for viruses,” Kelly Hills, a bioethicist, told Business Insider.
“Lots of chrome and polished metal, things with grooves and nicks and scratches. It just makes a good home,” she said.
The infectious-diseases expert Kentaro Iwata said poor hygiene practices on the ship made him “so scared” of contracting the virus when he visited.
“The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of the infection control,” Iwata says in a YouTube video. “There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection, and the red zone, which is potentially contaminated by the virus.”
As the case count on the ship continued to rise, some Indian crew members begged their government to rescue them.
The group shared a series of videos on Facebook. One of them, Binay Kumar Sarkar, told Business Insider that the situation on the ship was “out of control.”
“There are lot of people who don’t have coronavirus, so why are we all being confined here?” he said. “Please save at least those of us who are healthy.”
Crew members brought meals to passengers’ rooms, but the workers continued to eat together in the ship’s mess hall.
According to a New York Times report, infected crew members ate in the mess hall alongside their coworkers.
“We all are really scared and tense,” Sonali Thakkar, a worker on the cruise ship, told CNN.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that 85 crew members had tested positive for the virus, and Japan’s Ministry of Health announced that an additional 55 crew members tested positive on Sunday. That brought the total to 140 infected workers.
“There are many places where we all are together, not separated from each other,” Thakkar told CNN. “Especially when we sit in the same mess hall and eat together, the place where it can spread very fast.”
Dr. Norio Ohmagari, director of Japan’s Disease Control and Prevention Centre, later told CNN that keeping the crew on board had been a “tough decision.”
“We suspected some of the cruise staff may have already been infected, but … they had to operate the cruise ship itself, they had to see the passengers, they had to deliver the meals,” Ohmagari said.
Another government advisor, Dr. Shigeru Omi, said that officials were “very grateful” to crew members at a press conference on February 24.
“On human rights, of course we sympathise, but you know, as long as the passengers are still there, they have to provide the service,” Omi said.
As the case count rose past 200, passengers expressed fear.
“I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I could die from this cruise,” Gay Courter, a 75-year-old novelist confined to a cabin on the ship with her husband, told The Wall Street Journal.
“The 14-day stipulation was meaningless in a context with new infections and new transmission episodes,” Adalja said.
“The whole idea of the cruise-ship quarantine was ill-conceived, and the resultant slew of infections it spawned was completely predictable,” he added.
On February 12, the Japanese Ministry of Health announced that some passengers older than 80 could finish their quarantine on land.
The offer applied to passengers over 80 who had windowless cabin rooms or preexisting medical conditions. They had to test negative for the virus before they could leave the ship.
On Valentine’s Day, passengers were gifted roses, chocolates, and (courtesy of the Japanese Health Ministry) new iPhones with a special app for medical support.
We all know that we were facing a crisis here in Diamond Princess due to NCoV but hey we still managed to smile, laugh and dance. For our Family and Friends to know that we were Ok here and We Will Stand Together As One until we finish the Quarantine.#Galley#TeamDiamondPrincess pic.twitter.com/0nqsPsOfhP
— Mae Fantillo (@maejuliene18) February 14, 2020
Crew members danced below deck and children drew pictures. The first group of healthy people was also allowed to leave the ship that day: 11 passengers older than 80.
After nearly a month on board, the remaining passengers finally began to leave the ship on February 16.
Officials in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and the US are requiring their residents to undergo an additional 14-day quarantine once they return home.
By then, the number of people infected with the coronavirus on the ship had skyrocketed to 621 — more than half of all cases outside China.
More than half of the infected people (322) showed no symptoms at all, which suggests that some coronavirus carriers in China could be going undetected.
Researchers still aren’t sure to what extent people can spread the virus when they have no symptoms, though a report published on February 21 documented a case in which a woman who was asymptomatic passed the coronavirus to five family members.
Fourteen US citizens who tested positive for the virus flew home in an isolation box on the back of a plane with other healthy Americans who had been on the ship.
Their tests came back positive after they already left the ship and were travelling to the plane, the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement on February 17.
The agencies also said the passengers had been evaluated, and “all were deemed asymptomatic and fit to fly before being processed for evacuation.”
But on Friday, the CDC reported that 30 of the other US evacuees had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s respiratory-diseases centre, had warned this could happen: “We do think based on epidemiology and risk assessment that there may be additional cases,” she said in a press conference on February 21.
Scott Pauley, a spokesperson for the CDC, told The San Francisco Chronicle that “we don’t want to take [the tests done in Japan] at face value.”
Fehrenbacher said one of the infected people sat behind him on the plane.
“Realising I spent the last 12 hours right in front of her was concerning, to say the least,” he told Grand Canyon University, his alma mater.
“I’d spent 12 or 13 days in isolation to now be in close proximity with people hacking up a lung – it’s hard not to be worried,” he added. “The thought of taking off my mask seemed ludicrous to me. But the woman next to me was snacking the entire flight.”
CDC officials argued against the decision to have sick and healthy people fly on the same plane.
The Washington Post reported that CDC officials lost that argument on the tarmac, then insisted they be left out of the news release announcing that 14 infected Americans had shared a plane with more than 300 others.
President Donald Trump agreed that sick people should not fly on the same plane as people who hadn’t tested positive for the virus, The Post reported. He was not informed of the change of plans.
Six people who were on the cruise ship have died, according to Japanese officials.
Japanese officials announced the first two deaths on February 18. The passengers – an 87-year-old Japanese man and an 84-year-old Japanese woman – were taken to local hospitals on February 11 and 12, and both had underlying health issues, The New York Times reported, citing the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Crew members finally began leaving the ship on Thursday, though Japan’s Ministry of Health said it would take several days to unload them all.
The ministry said in a statement that 240 crew members who had tested negative will be transported to the National Tax College in Wako, a campus outside Tokyo, for another 14 days of quarantine.
Princess Cruises is preparing the ship to set sail again on April 29.
“The expectation is that the ship would be fully sanitised and then taken into dry dock for a period of time,” Negin Kamali, the public-relations director for Princess Cruises, told The Wall Street Journal.
Hilary Brueck, Isaac Scher, Rhea Mahbubani, and Bill Bostock contributed reporting.
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