It sounds like the latest Netflix thriller: a cruise ship full of thousands of tourists is quarantined in a harbor as a contagious virus makes its way around the 17-deck luxury ship infecting new passengers daily. That might be a slightly Netflix-ified version of what’s currently underway in Japan, but only slightly. The Diamond Princess cruise ship has been sitting quarantined in Yokohama harbor for nearly a week with some 3,700 passengers and crew aboard after a passenger from Hong Kong—who disembarked last week—tested positive for coronavirus. On Monday, Japanese officials said the ship now had recorded 136 coronavirus cases, including 11 Americans, making the Diamond Princess home to the highest concentration of the virus anywhere in world outside of China.
Coronavirus was believed to have been carried aboard by the passenger from Hong Kong, who later tested positive, leaving thousands of passengers stranded trying to stay well and worrying if they are on the verge of contracting the virus. “I know that stress and anxiety compromise my immune system,” Sarah Arana, a 52-year-old a medical social worker from California, told the New York Times. “My whole thing is just to stay calm, because no matter what, I’m here. But every day it’s anxiety-provoking when we see the ambulances line up on the side of the ship.” The two-week quarantine is set to continue until Feb. 19.
In the meantime, passengers describe a grim reality of being confined to their cabins, largely unable to go outside, as they read online about the infection rate that ticks slowly higher. Medical supplies, like prescription medicines are being delivered to passengers who are running low. The captain announces new cases on the ship’s intercom almost daily, as passengers suspected of having contracted the virus—showing symptoms, such as a fever—are taken to land for testing and treatment. Global health experts are still sizing up the virus to figure out the different ways it can spread. That uncertainty coupled with what’s been described onboard as only a trickle of information has led to worried speculation among passengers about what’s actually transmitting the disease. The food handlers? The ventilation system? Authorities have said they don’t believe that the virus is being spread in the air system.
It’s a terrifying prospect and “passengers have grown increasingly fearful that the quarantine—meant to protect people in Japan and contain the virus’s spread—could be putting them in jeopardy,” the New York Times reports. “Many have been nervously reviewing their activities from early in the cruise, before the quarantine, and hoping they had not come into contact with the wrong person. [One passenger] thought about the meals, trivia nights and theater performances she had attended, including an opera that was staged the night before the quarantine was imposed.”
While they wait, the Diamond Princess has sent a letter to all of the ship’s passengers informing them that they cost of their cruise is on the house, and that the cruise line would refund the cost of their flights and hotels. They also said they would give each passenger a voucher for another cruise at a later date.