‘Almost like you’re in a jail cell.’ Scarborough couple on board cruise ship in Japan calling for help from Ottawa

‘Almost like you’re in a jail cell.’ Scarborough couple on board cruise ship in Japan calling for help from Ottawa

Every day at 7 a.m., Diana and Allan Chow wake up on a cruise ship. One hour later, people come to their door and drop off food for breakfast. About 15 minutes later, different people arrive to leave drinks.

Every time Allan Chow opens the door and comes in contact with another person outside their room on the Diamond Princess in Japan, he meets them with a mask, chats a little, shuts the door and goes directly to the bathroom to wash his hands.

Every second day, passengers on the quarantined ship are allowed to leave their cabin for one hour, as long as they haven’t been coughing, he told the Star in an interview Friday.

“The condition is almost like you’re in a jail cell. You’re not allowed to go anywhere, you’re not allowed to talk to anyone, and basically you are isolated,” he said. “That’s it. We are confined to our own bedroom.”

The Scarborough couple, along with the other 3,500-plus travellers, have been stuck aboard the cruise ship which has been docked in Yokohama.

Fron left, Kitty Ng, Diana Chow, Allan Chow and Ya Tsan Ng enjoy a drink on the night prior to the Feb. 4 quarantine aboard the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess.

The cruise set sail on Jan. 20, but has been in quarantine since Feb. 4 after a passenger, who disembarked from the cruise in Hong Kong, had contracted the new coronavirus. The 14-day quarantine is expected to end Feb. 19.

Between bits of sleep, watching TV, talking to relatives, and reading news about the virus named COVID-19 around the world, Chow said she and her family are just trying to stay calm.

“Nothing can cheer us up sitting in this room,” she said. “There’s no level of comfort that Diamond Princess can give us to make us be more comfortable.”

They said cleaners have stopped cleaning, but sheets and towels are delivered. The couple spend much of their time wiping down the surfaces of everything in their room.

Because there are so many people on board, there’s only a certain time of the day that passengers can leave their room.

“So what they have done is done a schedule that they will say cabin, what level, what cabin number, from what to what can go at this time for an hour, and then you have to return by say 11 o’clock,” she said.

She said they are afraid to go out for a walk, even when they are allowed to.

Scarborough couple Diana and Allan Chow's beds in their room on board the Diamond Princess. They said they spend their days in isolation in this room, with food, drinks and linen being delivered via a brief interaction at the door.

“My husband and I afraid to leave our cabin because we are afraid that the germs are not clear and floating outside the hallway,” she said. “My husband and I are afraid to go for a walk and if we’re unfortunate to get infected, then our chance of leaving Japan is slim.”

Japan (which hosts the 2020 summer Olympics starting July 24) is worried the virus might spread in the country if the passengers are allowed to disembark.

But some aboard the ship believe that keeping the passengers onboard puts them more at risk of getting the virus and are urging Ottawa to step in to help.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government is monitoring the well-being of the 285 Canadians onboard the ship.

Twelve Canadians have contracted the virus and have been moved to Japanese health facilities, Champagne said, noting that at least three required to be sent to hospital.

Champagne said Canadian health workers are assisting in Japan.

In total, 218 people have tested positive for the disease, making the cruise ship the biggest concentration of confirmed cases outside of mainland China, according to the World Health Organization.

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Allan Chow said he and his wife have been in contact with Scarborough-Agincourt MP Jean Yip. For Allan Chow, the bar has been set on how Canada should be handling their emergency situation.

“If the Trudeau government can send a plane to Wuhan to pick up all these people from there,” he said, “they can do the same thing for us.”

Champagne said emergency response teams and consular officials are in Japan to make sure Canadians are receiving the help they need, dispatching health officials to Japan to co-ordinate with local public health authorities.

“We know that there are some people who need medications on board, they want to have contact with their families, we’re facilitating that,” Champagne said at a briefing in Senegal.

Correction – Feb. 14, 2020: This article was edited from a previous version to update an incorrect headline that referred to the cruise ship as Japanese.

With files from The Canadian Press

David Venn

David Venn is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @davidvenn_
Ilya Bañares is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @ilyaoverseas

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