Coronavirus: Quarantine nightmare still not over for left-behind cruise ship crew

Crew members standing at a ship entrance next to supplies on the Diamond Princess at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on Feb 14, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - The nightmare of a 14-day quarantine is ending for most passengers on the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship, but it is far from over for the more than 1,000 crew members.

While passengers on board were confined to their cabins around the clock apart from an hour of fresh air on deck, most of the crew did not undergo quarantine as they were needed to keep the ship running.

They were preparing food and delivering meals to cabins, leading some critics to charge that they were inadvertently spreading the virus throughout the ship, which has seen more than 600 cases of the potentially deadly Covid-19 disease.

As they have been in close contact with possibly infected passengers, the crew is expected to undergo a 14-day quarantine starting when the last passenger leaves the ship.

Crew members have generally been reticent to speak to media, apparently concerned for their jobs, but some have broken their silence to describe difficult conditions and fear on board.

Ms Sonali Thakkar, a 24-year-old security officer on board, told Agence France-Presse in an interview that crew members were sleeping two to a cabin, sharing washrooms and eating together, "so the disease can spread very easily".

"We do have a lot of fear, me and my colleagues, more than 1,000 crew. We've been working since the quarantine started. As the days pass and the number of patients increase, the crew is feeling more afraid," she said.

"They are scared that it can spread really fast and all we want is tests to be done and to be separated from those who are positive. We don't want to stay on board."

Her father, Dinesh, said: "Sonali is stuck in a small windowless room on the cruise (ship) and is very scared... We speak to her every day trying to calm her."

"Why did the government wait for so long as more and more people got infected? She should have been rescued with other Indians from the cruise long ago. This is very wrong," he told Agence France-Presse.


Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz wrote a letter to the crew in which she said the firm was "deeply grateful and incredibly proud of all of you".

"You deserve, and will need, a break. So, we offer you two months of paid time off. This will include your salary and any average gratuities you may normally receive."

And passengers who were completely reliant on the crew's food deliveries have posted messages of thanks on social media.

"My family and I want to express our deep appreciation for your work, sacrifice and care over the last few weeks. We can't imagine the difficulties you have and will continue to endure," one note said with drawings of hearts and diamonds.

"We wish you the best for your health, for your families and especially for those in hospital. Keep shining."

Some crew members have been trying to keep their spirits up with dance and music.

Kitchen staff posted a video of themselves jiving around and one employee, Mr Binay Kumar Sarkar, published a video on Facebook of him singing a doleful Bollywood song.

"We should try and remain happy in such situations," he said.

"I want to say to the people that whatever problems you face in life, you should try to solve them and move ahead. That's what life is all about."

But as the days have dragged on and new cases emerge, other crew members have sent desperate pleas for help.

Mr Jayson Abalos, a Filipino chef on board, posted a letter on social media "on behalf of the Filipino crew of the Galley Team of Diamond Princess Cruise Ship".

"We are counting (the) days and it seems like it's getting longer and longer. We are no longer functioning well, both body and mind. And we are stressed and frightened."

"Money is nothing if you die and leave your family without a great memory."

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