Feb. 7, 2020 — Eleven Americans are among the 61 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 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.
According to TheNew 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.
“At the moment, every time there’s a new case, the quarantine extends 14 days. We need to find a way to break that vicious cycle and find a way of organizing the patients onboard so we can get people off the ship in due course,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said at a news briefing Friday.
One of the diagnosed Americans, Rebecca Frasure from Oregon, spoke with NBC News before being flown to a hospital. She didn’t have any symptoms yet.
“They just told me that they will need to keep me in the hospital for at least 3 three days for treatment, and then if I get better, then I will come back to the ship to finish up the quarantine in my cabin,” she said.
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), another passenger, Matthew Smith, posted on Twitter.
“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 Ryan. 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.”
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: Out of more than 3,700 passengers, 61 cases represent less than 2%.
“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 31,000, the majority of them in China, and 638 people have died. All but one of the deaths have been in China, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Only 12 cases have been reported so far in the United States.
WebMD senior news writer Brenda Goodman contributed to this report.