My Interview With A Survivor of the Diamond Princess Virus Outbreak
Her experience during the worst coronavirus outbreak outside China
On January 20th the cruise ship ‘Diamond Princess’ set sail from Japan. The cruise was meant to end on February 4th, but instead the guests were quarantined the day they were meant to be disembarking the ship in Yokahama.
Little did anyone onboard know, but the ship was about to become the site of the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside of China according to Business Insider.
One confirmed positive infection spread to hundreds of others as guests were quarantined and transported together in what has become a controversial lesson in how not to handle an emergency situation.
Given the lack of precedent, it’s easy to see how the staff on the ground reacted to a situation they had no idea to handle; and from a distance it’s easy to point fingers and say how it should have happened.
One person who was actually there and was a guest onboard the Diamond Princess is a woman who was a work colleague of mine many years ago.
A mutual friend re-connected us and I was able to chat with her from her quarantined room in Darwin, Australia. For the sake of potential future litigation, I’ve agreed not to use her name for this interview.
Here is my conversation with a guest who was aboard the Diamond Princess during the coronavirus outbreak crisis. My questions will be written in italics.
How far into the cruise did you know that something was wrong?
Only right at the end
The captain made an announcement that someone had been tested positive and that we had to wait to see what happens with us. The day we were meant to disembark, was all a normal day, except that we couldn’t disembark.
Isn’t disembarkation normally in the morning?
They were going to have staggered disembarkations to manage the number of people. But yes. So we just stayed on the ship for an extra day.
How did people react to the announcement?
Ship operations were all normal at the point. No one was panicking.
I can only speak from my experience, but it was like any other announcement really
No-one was scared from the announcement?
Not that I saw.
What did they ask you to do next?
Go about your business as usual. The quarantine hadn’t started at this point.
When did that kick in?
The night before quarantine started, we still were under the assumption we’d be able to leave the following day. They all assumed so too. So we packed and went about our business. It kicked in the day after we were meant to leave.
How did it happen?
Actually, I think we got into Yokohama a day early. Honestly, all the days start to blur together.
Did people react well to the quarantine?
It’s hard to say. I know lots of people would have had complaints. There were articles and news reports galore, but I didn’t have anything negative to comment on. Everyone was doing the best they could in an unforeseen circumstance.
How was life confined to a cabin?
Pretty lazy haha. I shared a cabin with my parents, so space was minimal. I stuck to my bunk bed mostly.
Did the ship give you free internet?
They gave it to us before the quarantine started so we could contact people in case we were delayed.
Did your body have pain from the lack of movement and exercise?
More than usual? Haha. Nah. You could walk around inside the cabin. We had a balcony too. Thank goodness.
They eventually were allowed to have scheduled times for certain levels to go out on deck (fully masked) for fresh air and walk time. Especially for the inside cabins. So they made a schedule for everyone to have air time, essentially.
how many days were you onboard?
So, cruise started on the 20th of Jan. Quarantine started on the 5th of Feb. I finally was repatriated on the night of the 18th of feb. Arrived in Darwin the morning of the 19th.
Did you spend any time in Japan?
Nope. Straight off the ship and onto a plane. They couldn’t risk any additional exposure.
Literally bussed in the night. It was massive, a double story Boeing 747. But we still flew in economy haha.
Have you been asked to reimburse anyone for the flight?
We didn’t pay for the flight to Darwin.
Princess cruises will reimburse any costs that we had over the course of the quarantine too. We just need to send in receipts.
So they left first and business class on the plane empty?
Not sure, we all had dedicated sections to stay within.
I imagine the health workers needed a place to stay too. That was far enough from all of us.
How has life in Darwin been?
Pretty normal to day to day life. Haha. I lead a very boring life as previously mentioned haha.
Can you tell me about your daily activities?
I’ve got fully functioning service here so I’m on Netflix a lot. I’m rewatching Brooklyn Nine Nine. So good!
They also have two scheduled activity times during the day.
Morning session is games (like bingo, and trivia) and afternoon is exercise. So we head off the “sportsfield” (it’s a big grassy field next to an undercover area). So play kickball, tennis, walk around, hula hoop. I also have a colouring in book too. Honestly, I probably do more here than I do at home.
What kind of facility is it?
It’s an old miners village. It can house like 3000 people.
You’re in a village?
It was shut down about 6 months ago, so they reopened it for the quarantinees. There was another group already here (but in another section) who were from Wuhan, I think. They left the Sunday after we arrived.
It’s just a really large complex with housing. Picture school camp, but massive. And everyone gets their own room. But we can’t walk everywhere, we’re confined to a small section.
There was controversy about the way the Wuhan evacuees were treated, and the choice of Christmas Island for their quarantine. There was speculation that racism played a part, because many were Asian Australian. Do you feel that race has played a part in your treatment?
I feel like because I was on a cruise, it was a little different. The cruisers weren’t predominately of asian descent.
But there was a group who were already here from Wuhan. So I think it’s about space.
I don’t know much about the previous group though.
Obviously, keeping the virus from outbreaking would be the main concern. I mean, other countries were literally turning cruise ships away and not wanting to take responsibility. So really, Japan were amazing in even taking us in and looking after us. I don’t know what went on behind closed doors, but initially, Japan were the ones who were looking after us, along with the people onboard.
When will you be allowed to go home?
At this stage, end date is set for the 5th. But when we can actually fly out will be up to Border Force. Organisation is out of our hands. So I just go with the flow.
Do you feel traumatised by this experience?
Hard to say, I don’t think I’m traumatised, per say.
Everyone I’ve encountered has been more than accommodating and caring.
I can’t say that everyone out there has been (based on what I’ve seen on the news), but everyone I’ve talked to has been quite positive and understanding.
Mentally, it may be taking its toll, just due to the sheer amount of time I’ve been in this process.
I’ll let you know when I’m settled back at home what my mental situation is like, but physically, all good.
My friend remains in Darwin and says she’s being cared for well by the staff running the facility.
If you have any questions for her, you can ask them in the comments and I’ll pass them on. Once she’s safe at home I’ll post an update to Health Tonic where I’ll also post the answers to your questions.