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What Life Is Like For 3,700 Cruise Ship Passengers Stuck In Coronavirus Quarantine

Dozens of passengers on a cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus. NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Gay and Philip Courter, among the 3,700 quarantined on a ship in Yokohama, Japan.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Over 800 people have died in China from the coronavirus. That’s more than the SARS epidemic death toll 18 years ago. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus on a ship near Japan has risen. The Diamond Princess was supposed to have docked in Taiwan today, but the cruise ship has become a floating quarantine for some 3,700 people aboard. Since Monday, it’s been alternating between the port of Yokohama, Japan, and nearby open water. It’s believed that a passenger carrying the coronavirus boarded the ship before disembarking in Hong Kong. More than 60 people on the Diamond Princess have now tested positive for the disease. About a dozen are American.

Gay and Philip Courter are among those aboard the ship. They’re from Florida, and we called them in their room yesterday.

GAY COURTER: Hi, Lulu. This is Gay Courter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gay, these must indeed be anxious moments. How are you feeling?

G COURTER: Well, you know, at first, we just got to make the best of a bad situation. But the virus cases keep coming, and the numbers go up incrementally. Yesterday, there were 46 new cases, virtually doubling. Today, there are three or four. And now we’re awaiting a helicopter and a boat run by the (inaudible) coast guard that is supposedly taking some samples from other ill (inaudible), I guess to test them for the virus. And all (inaudible) bringing medical supplies on board for people, the passengers who are all running out of their prescribed medications ’cause the trip is extended for two more weeks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are they telling you? How are they explaining what’s happening?

G COURTER: All communication comes right from the captain and nobody else, except some (inaudible). You know, one of the hardest things is you don’t have any information except what you can see out your balcony.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what can you see out of your balcony?

G COURTER: Well, we’re at sea, so we see the waves and the stars and the almost-full moon. We have a friend on the opposite side of the ship, and we’ll call her and say, what do you see? You know, you look down the hall. In each direction, there are hall monitors or police or something. And we can’t even stick our heads out the door.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I should say that in a very eerie twist of fate, you are an author, and you wrote a book about terrible happenings on a cruise ship. And you researched that book on the very cruise ship you’re on now, right?

G COURTER: I know. It’s just so ironic. It’s called “The Girl In The Box,” and it’s about a murder (inaudible) with medical overtones on a cruise ship. I guess my darkest image is me going out on a (inaudible). So it’s – as much as we have gotten a dark sense of humor here, the (inaudible) is that any one of us could come down with the virus. We’re 75 and 77, so we’re in a high-risk category by age. And I just learned that if one of us is offloaded for a hospital, the other has to stay on board.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh.

G COURTER: And I just can’t imagine that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your family and your friends must be very worried about you.

G COURTER: The kids have formed an incredible team to get us off the ship, but the Japanese authorities and the U.S. State Department are (inaudible) no. Nobody (inaudible) quarantine. So that’s frustrating. But the kids are working on it as a team. And they’re bright, and they’re – they know media, and they know what to do. But it’s not happening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can I ask you to pass me over to Philip so I can speak with him as well? Thank you.

PHILIP COURTER: Hi, Lulu. It’s Phil.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi, Phil. Tell me a little bit about how you’re feeling and your state of mind right now.

P COURTER: I think as Gay said, we’ve been really very cheerful (inaudible) point where we realized that – you know, that we’ve read a lot. I think there is a real concern about the possibility the virus could be transmitted through the circulating air system. We’re fortunate we have a balcony, and we’ve been keeping our door cracked open a bit and letting fresh air move through the room all the time. But we’re just kind of, you know, hunkering down and taking our temperatures and trying to, you know, keep ourselves feeling healthy and safe. We’re certainly eating well. I’ll give them credit for that.

As of today, by the way, they even opened up a kind of a psychological support hotline so that if people are feeling really, really (inaudible), there’s a number they can call, which I think is awfully nice. I do give credit to the ship. They’re really trying to do the best they can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you spoken to any U.S. government representatives? Have you been able to sort of speak to embassies or consulates?

P COURTER: Well, we’ve tried to reach out. Our kids have tried to reach out. Everybody is kind of throwing their hands up in the air. You know, this is a big problem, and nobody really knows what to do. But at the moment, we certainly haven’t seen or heard about any actual action taking place to get people off the ship earlier or to change that kind of a setting. I mean, the news today from the State Department was that the CDC says, this is best place for you all (inaudible). And so here we are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When will the quarantine be over?

P COURTER: It’s supposed to end on the 19. And we’re presuming that that’s what’s going to happen even if some new cases do appear. Some folks say, oh, no, if there are more cases, then you have to extend the quarantine period. Well, we certainly hope that doesn’t happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That’s almost two weeks. That’s a long time. We wish you the best.

P COURTER: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That’s Philip and Gay Courter, quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship near Japan.

Thank you so much.

P COURTER: Thank you.

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