This article was updated Feb. 12, 2020.
Feb. 7, 2020 -- Eleven Americans are among the 174 people infected with the new coronavirus on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess, the largest concentration of infection outside China. The ship has been quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, since last Tuesday.
The outbreak began with a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25, and tested positive 6 days later. While on the ship, he didn’t report any symptoms, which left more than 3,700 passengers and crew potentially exposed. About half the people aboard are from Japan.
Among them is Oregon couple Kent Frasure, 42, and his wife, Rebecca Frasure, 35. She tested positive for coronavirus several days ago and is quarantined in a Japanese hospital for 14 days, Kent said. He tested negative so he’s still on the ship.
Frasure said he’s able to speak to Rebecca regularly. She has no symptoms, and getting used to a hospital in Japan has been tough on her. She doesn’t speak Japanese and hasn’t had an interpreter. The food is very different, as is the way the hospital is run. In Japan, patients usually rely on family to bring them things they need like towels and water, he said. Because she doesn’t have family there, she has to pay for everything.
The government and the cruise line are taking care of all those expenses, but it’s still very weird, Frasure said. “I know someone who has to rent their pajamas.”
According to The New York Times, authorities have prioritized testing people who came into contact with the infected man and those who aren’t feeling well. The first round of testing of 273 people has been done, and barring any new developments, the quarantine will end on Feb. 19.
While under quarantine on the Diamond Princess, passengers are confined to their staterooms for most of the day. Those without balconies are brought to the uppermost deck for 90 minutes at a time outdoors, said David Abel, a passenger from the United Kingdom who’s been broadcasting live updates on Facebook.
Every passenger has been issued a thermometer to monitor themselves, asked to report anything over 99.5 F (37.5 C), Frasure said. The Captain makes daily announcements via loudspeakers in each cabin. He recently reassured passengers that the air they are breathing is fresh air from outside the ship; it’s not recirculated, as some have feared, Frasure said.
“Not just from the point of view of their physical health but from a mental health perspective, it’s quite scary. It’s very, very scary to be in that situation,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Program, at a news briefing last week.
Another passenger, Yardley Wong of Hong Kong, tweeted about her fear: “#day3 just woke up from sleepless night, omg… worry coming up high! getting so emotional. Struggling if I get fresh air or not…I want to cry.”
Frasure says while at first the mood on board the ship was sour, people have mellowed out. Passengers are staying in touch through a closed Facebook group and what’s app groups.
Princess Cruises, the operator of the Diamond Princess, is working to keep passengers comfortable and occupied. A spokesperson said in a statement: "During the remainder of the time onboard, guests will continue to be provided complimentary internet and telephone service to stay in contact with their family and loved ones. In addition, we have added additional live TV channels and a large selection of in-room movies available in multiple languages. The cruise activities staff is packaging games, puzzles and trivia and delivering them to guest staterooms." Meals are being delivered by room service.
Ryan stressed the need to keep the numbers in perspective.
“We need to recognize that a cruise ship is a very particular environment in which you can have higher levels of transmission, even with a virus that isn't very efficient at transmission,” he said.
Worldwide, the number of cases of coronavirus has passed 42,000, the majority of them in China, and more than 1,000 people have died. All but one of the deaths have been in China, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Only 13 cases have been reported so far in the United States.
Despite the challenges, Kent Frasure says he would still go on another cruise in the future. “This was like winning the lottery in reverse,” he said. But he added that the chances of something like this happening again are small.