For one American couple, what was supposed to be a weeklong trip in Japan has been abruptly replaced by two weeks confined to their room aboard a quarantined cruise ship.
Kent Frasure, 42, and his 35-year-old wife, Rebecca, traveled from Oregon to board the Diamond Princess, which left Yokohama for a 16-day cruise and made stops in other parts of Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan, with roughly 3,700 passengers and crew members aboard.
The couple had planned to travel around the country upon returning to Japan. But when the ship returned to Yokohama on Tuesday, they learned that they wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. An 80-year-old man who disembarked in Hong Kong had tested positive for the new coronavirus, setting off fears of a ship-wide outbreak.
A day later, the crew announced over the ship’s loudspeakers that passengers should stay in their rooms and that a two-week quarantine was in effect.
“It’s hard to know what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Kent Frasure said. “We’re being kept in the dark.”
The fate of the ship — and its passengers and crew members — has dominated recent news coverage of the outbreak in Japan. Many passengers have voiced their fears and concerns on social media, with some pleading for prescription medications and other supplies to be delivered. Others simply want to know what’s going on.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that necessities such as medicine would be delivered that evening and items requested thereafter would be handed out “as soon as possible” starting Friday.
So far, 20 people who were onboard have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing Japan’s figure for known infections to 45. The health ministry said Japanese authorities have tested 273 individuals on the ship so far.
Infections have been reported in more than 20 nations, but the vast majority are in mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated. As of Thursday, China has reported more than 560 deaths and over 28,000 cases. Japan has the second most confirmed cases after China.
The Frasures had their temperatures taken on Monday and underwent additional screening the next day, including throat swabs, after Kent Frasure said in a questionnaire that he was taking ibuprofen — a common painkiller — for a recent knee injury.
When they spoke to The Japan Times via Skype on Thursday morning, the couple hadn’t left their room for more than 24 hours. Regular meals were being delivered just outside their door by crew members wearing masks and gloves.
Passengers haven’t been able to interact with each other except by leaning over their balconies to talk with people in adjacent rooms.
Kent Frasure said he and wife had spoken with two travelers from Canada, one in a room above them and one next door.
On Thursday, when the Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama to resupply, the couple watched as what appeared to be a group of passengers were led off the ship and driven away in ambulances.
The ship made six stops during the cruise. The Frasures said the vast majority of passengers, themselves included, disembarked at each stop for sightseeing. They went to Hong Kong Disneyland during the Lunar New Year, shopped in Okinawa and enjoyed other sites. Few passengers wore masks, they said.
Many aboard the Diamond Princess have begun telling their stories on social media, with some posting pictures of their rooms as they grow bored in isolation. Others pleaded for help amid growing fears of the spreading virus.
Kent Frasure said passengers were asked Wednesday to notify the crew of any medical needs and were told that medication would be provided free of charge.
Despite the boredom and uneasiness, passengers have no choice but to wait for the quarantine to be lifted.
“We’re OK now but it’s only been a day,” Kent Frasure said. “Cabin fever hasn’t set in quite yet.”
Alan and Vanessa Sandford, a married couple from Nottingham, England, boarded the Diamond Princess more than 30 days ago in Singapore before it sailed to Yokohama. They had their temperatures checked in Vietnam, Okinawa and again in Yokohama on Monday.
The couple has been able to communicate with other passengers using the phone in their room. Their main concern is over how they’ll get home once the quarantine is lifted.
“We have (canceled) our flights home and will have to rebook, but flights are now scarce and very expensive,” he said.
Alan Sandford said some mask-clad passengers — most likely those staying in windowless rooms — were taken to the ship’s deck on Thursday to get some fresh air.
“We are doing fine emotionally despite being confined to a small room,” he said. “Although if you hear in a few days my wife has pushed me overboard, you will know things got stressful.”