Everybody catches the flu. It’s just one of those facts of life and mostly it is an inconvenience. Maybe you lose a few days of work or school and you recover, unless you are part of a vulnerable group – underlying illness, immune compromised or elderly. Society works hard at reducing the spread of influenza with vaccines and quarantines but still tens of thousands die each year. There are certain environments that become ideal breeding grounds for viruses. Schools, offices, military bases, summer camps, airplanes, cruise ships…
The Diamond Princess And The Corona Virus
After a month and a half from the now known first case on the Diamond Princess that was discovered in Hong Kong there have been a total of 705 confirmed cases, 325 of those have recovered and 7 have died. The deaths occurred in people ranging from 68 to 82 years old.).
As of March 22nd the ship is still tied up at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal Yokohama (source – ship finder) and Princess Cruise Lines has not shown any future itineraries for the Diamond Princess for the next number of months.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship’s operator, Princess Cruise Line, confirmed on Monday, February 10th that there are 135 people on board the ship who tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus. It is also worth noting that not all of the passengers have as yet been tested.
A Timeline of Events Since the First Confirmed Coronavirus Case onboard The Diamond Princess.
February 2nd Hong Kong media reported Saturday evening that an 80-year-old cruise passenger from the Diamond Princess has been tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus. Early reports are suggesting that his cruise itinerary involved a stop in Kagoshima and he had not visited mainland China the entire trip. Prior to the vacation, he had visited a local hospital for follow-up on Jan 15.
It was later reported that a male passenger flew to Tokyo on January 17th and went on the January 20th two week Yokohama – Kagoshima – Hong Kong – Yokohama sailing of the Diamond Princess.
We now know that on February 1, a Hong Kong hospital confirmed a patient tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus. The man was a passenger on the Diamond Princess and he confirmed that he did not drop by the ship’s medical center for help. The man reported that he has been coughing since Jan 15, five days before the cruise, and developed a fever on Jan 30th while onboard the ship.
According to the statement on Princess Cruises’ official website, the ship was scheduled to return from a two-week itinerary on February 4 but the case of the patient previously on board the ship prompted the Japanese authorities to run tests on passengers while still onboard the ship, delaying the ship’s Yokohama turnaround.
Authorities investigating the case of this elderly man from the Diamond Princess now believe he caught the virus from his wife, who appears to have recently made trips to mainland China.
Upon arrival in Yokohama the cruise ship was quarantined by Japanese officials, with the first 10 cases testing positive for the coronavirus being transferred to Japanese medical facilities. This left about 3,400 people quarantined on the Diamond Princess both passengers and crew.
The ship was left with managing their own onboard contagion while in quarantine. Stories after that are mostly anecdotal but suggest that passengers were to remain in their cabins and if they went outside they were to maintain a distance from each other of at least 9 feet. Specific information concerning the crew and sanitizing efforts are not available.
February 16th the United States intervened and evacuated some 340 Americans from the Diamond Princess docked in Japan using two chartered planes. Upon arrival in America 14 tested positive for the corona virus and everyone was placed in a two week quarantine.
The Diamond Princess was, at the time, the largest cluster of the coronavirus outside mainland China. On Monday February 17th, Japanese authorities once again raised the number of people on the ship infected with the virus to 454.
A letter was forwarded from the Diamond Princess staff to passengers on Sunday February 16th, passengers who test negative for the virus and show no symptoms will be allowed to leave the ship on Feb. 19. The letter noted that passengers will probably be subject to additional quarantine requirements by their country of destination when leaving Japan.
The 1,000 plus crew members still on the Diamond Princess will be moving from their lower deck shared cabins individually to newly fumigated passenger cabins.
As of February 28th the Diamond Princess reported 705 Infected, 5 Deaths and 10 Recovered.
The last group of about 130 crew members got off the Diamond Princess on Sunday, March 1st completely vacating the cruise ship. They were placed in an onshore quarantine facility provided by Princess Cruises for additional monitoring.
In hindsight it now seems the best course of action would have been to remove everyone from the ship and isolate them from each other in an extended quarantine. The American intervention decision is probably the correct action.
Cruise ships have become a focus recently because of their environment, having people in close contact for lengthy periods of time. Cruise ships are not the only high risk environment for the spread of a contagion as anyone with small children going to school will tell you. Other similar environments include schools, large offices, airplanes, resorts, military facilities and on and on. The military is particularly susceptible to contagions and has been the location of a number of major incidents. Norovirus is a stomach virus that has been a concern for cruise ships for a number of years. The first outbreak of norovirus was in 1968 at a school in Norwalk, Ohio which is where the virus gets its name. As should be noted at this time the coronavirus is very contagious and the world is responding by shutting down almost all places where people gather in numbers and the cruise industry is in no way responsible for the origins and spread of this disease.