TOKYO: A cruise ship docked off the port city of Yokohama in Japan has become the largest single cluster of COVID-19 case outside China, where it originated.
The Diamond Princess has been quarantined since arriving off the Japanese coast on Feb 3, after a passenger who got off the vessel in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus.
Those who remained on the ship were asked to stay inside their cabins and allowed onto open decks for short amounts of time – and only if they wore face masks.
There are about 3,700 people are on board the vessel, which usually has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670, according to Reuters.
More than 170 have tested positive for the virus so far, and have been evacuated to local medical facilities.
The UK-flagged Diamond Princess is managed by Princess Cruise Lines, one of the world's largest cruise lines and a unit of Carnival Corp.
Here are the actions being taken by the ship in response to the outbreak:
HOW ARE THE PASSENGERS AND CREW QUARANTINED?
Passengers have been asked to remain in their rooms while on quarantine. They are only allowed out onto open decks for short amounts of time and are required to wear face masks at all times while they are out.
Food and beverages are distributed to them three times a day, the cruise line said in an advisory on its website.
The vessel has activated eight new live television channels and added 80 new titles to its stateroom entertainment system, it added. Guests are also being provided with games, trivia and puzzles to help keep them occupied.
Crew members who have been cleared after an initial health screening from the Japanese health ministry are “fulfilling their duties as required”, it added. Additional crew testing is also ongoing.
“When not working, crew members are requested to be in their state rooms,” it said.
The ship is expected to be quarantined until Feb 19.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS ARE BEING TAKEN ON BOARD?
Masks are provided to passengers and crew members, Princess Cruises said.
Crew members use N95 masks to “protect their health and well-being”. They are also given personal protective equipment.
The ship said that while its routine protocols are “robust and more stringent than land-based hotels and resorts”, it has also increased its hygiene and sanitation protocols since guests have tested positive for the coronavirus.
An additional 200 hand sanitiser stations have been installed on the ship.
The cruise line said its ships “always seeks to comply with the highest public health standards”.
“We have worked with our public health team to put in place additional procedures to account for the change in onboard operations,” it added.
HOW IS THE COMPANY TAKING CARE OF THE CREW?
A set of protocols has been implemented for crew members, covering food delivery, collection and cleaning throughout the ship.
“The health and safety of our crew is as important to us as that of our guests,” Princess Cruises said.
A dedicated channel for the crew to communicate directly with shoreside leaders has been set up.
Direct phone and video chat with counsellors, as well as spiritual and faith-based resources, have been made available in seven languages to provide support for the crew.
These are available 24 hours a day.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE QUARANTINE PERIOD PASSES?
Once the quarantine is lifted, the ship will be “taken to a special service dock, where it will receive a rigorous Level 3 cleaning and disinfection, like hospital operating rooms, to fully sanitise all staterooms and public venues”, Princess Cruises said.
Guests will also be given a full refund for the cruise, it added.
“All guest expenses from cruise fare to roundtrip Princess EZair, pre- or post-cruise plus hotels, transfers, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items, and taxes, fees and port expenses will be refunded to the original form of payment,” the company said.
“Reasonable” independent expenses from bookings of air tickets, transfers or pre- or post-cruise hotels will also be refunded, as well as “reasonable onboard folio charges” during the quarantine period.
Additionally, guests will receive 100 per cent of their fare in future credits.
IS PRINCESS CRUISES IMPLEMENTING PRECAUTIONS ON OTHER SHIPS?
Other ships under the cruise line are implementing additional precautions following the outbreak.
Ships have stepped up its screening of guests and crew, barring anyone who has travelled from or through mainland China, Macau or Hong Kong within two weeks from boarding.
Guests who have been in contact with a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus will also not be allowed onto the cruise, as well as those who have been in contact with a person under monitoring within 14 days of the start of the cruise.
“A guest exhibiting signs of any illness prior to boarding a ship is checked by health and medical staff who determine if the guest will be allowed to board or be referred to shoreside medical care for further medical screening and potential treatment,” Princess Cruises said in its website.
Increased sanitation and hygiene practices have also been implemented on other ships.
“We will also provide information to our guests and crew about how to minimise any risk of contracting illness by practicing good hygiene habits, such as frequent hand washing,” it said.
The cruise line has also cancelled 12 upcoming voyages.