By Elaine Lies and David Dolan
TOKYO (Reuters) – Some cruise ship passengers savoured lavish meals; others watched movies or were glued to the live Academy Awards broadcast. The lucky few whose turn it was to get fresh air paced the decks, revelling in a glimpse of blue sky.
Nearly a week into quarantine on the Diamond Princess, tied up at the quay in Yokohama, boredom warred with anxiety as the hours ticked by and 66 more people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total cases on the ship to 136.
Health authorities have said the quarantine will stretch to Feb. 19 unless something unexpected happens, meaning deliverance is still more than a week away for the nearly 3,700 crew and passengers, ranging in age from children to octogenarians.
For some, the quarantine could be even longer. A World Health Organization statement on Sunday said the period could be extended “as appropriate” for close contacts of newly confirmed cases.
Many passengers appear to be trying to put on a brave face, flooding social media with photos of food, a young boy and his father snuggling in bed, and shipboard TV broadcasts of a magician – also under quarantine – performing tricks with red silk scarves.
“Princess stepping up its game with food service,” wrote passenger Matthew Smith under a photo of plates of food – including heaps of smoked salmon and large pieces of chocolate cake. “You might have to drag me off the ship when the quarantine ends.”
Others watched the Oscars, which were broadcast live on Monday morning. Informal ballots were distributed to passengers beforehand, which one person hailed as “Important Mail Delivery!!!”
Aun Na Tan said it had been many years since she had viewed the ceremony live.
“Normally it was on during our work time, but now we have plenty of time,” she said.
A 43-year-old Hong Kong resident quarantined with his wife, child and other family members did the same. He declined to give his name.
“We were rooting for ‘Parasite’,” he told Reuters, referring to the South Korean film that took Best Picture and two other awards. “We are doing origami; the ship is making instructional videos. We are doing some exercise.”
Getting off the ship was a relief, even for some who left for the hospital.
“We are in a much more pleasant setting than we were on the ship,” said Clyde Smith, 80, from his hospital room in western Tokyo, where he was evacuated after he and his wife tested positive.
“We’re doing great, and right now I am looking at Mt. Fuji” from the window of the hospital room, said his wife Renee, also 80.
The biggest regrets for the couple, from Atlanta in the United States: having to leave their grandsons, 25 and 23, in the cabin they had shared on the ship, not bringing more changes of clothes and being stuck with Japanese hospital fare.
“I would really love a Big Mac and french fries,” Renee said. “I’m getting tired of miso soup.”
The Smiths say they aren’t worried about their health, as they’ve shown no symptoms, despite having the coronavirus.
“We’ve had a good life, if things don’t work to our advantage on this one – so we feel good about life in general,” Clyde said. Asked if this experience would put the two retirees – who have visited all seven continents – from further travels, Renee declared, “Oh, heavens no. This is a little bump in the road.”
Back onboard the Diamond Princess, small groups are allowed out on deck every other day but must wear masks and stay well away from other people.
“We’re out in the bay, docked, so it’s kind of nice,” passenger Adam Waltz said in a video showing him and a companion walking briskly under Monday’s blue sky, sun flashing off the ocean.
But others were less sanguine. One passenger, with the Twitter name Da, said he or she had talked to younger passengers worried about financial repercussions, such as losing jobs, due to the enforced time off.
More confessed to unease later on Monday.
“There’s going to be a shipboard announcement, but I can see ambulances and trucks lining up,” Da wrote. “Now we’re just waiting for more news from the Health Ministry.”
Cruise ship officials said they would expand the entertainment on offer to help passengers pass the time.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and David Dolan; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Gerry Doyle; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ed Osmond)