Coronavirus: Hongkongers stuck on the Diamond Princess in Japan struggle with boredom, cabin fever and the threat of infection

Tony Cheung

Hongkongers stranded aboard the docked Diamond Princess cruise liner in Yokohama for seven days say they have to contend with stifling boredom, confined spaces, erratic meal times and dirty bedlinen – on top of the threat of the deadly coronavirus.

Young Wo-sang and his wife manage to kill time by watching films and taking advantage of the free internet, but their only wish is to get home – in good health – as soon as possible.

The Youngs are among about 260 Hongkongers staying on the luxury cruise in Japan.

On January 25, thousands of passengers boarded the ship in Hong Kong for the start of an adventure taking in Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa.

But as their voyage was about to end at Yokohama on February 4, they were banned by Japanese authorities from leaving the ship for two weeks because a former passenger had been found infected with the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 900 people since emerging from the central Chinese city of Wuhan last month.

The infected 80-year-old man from Hong Kong had disembarked the same vessel in the city on January 25.

By Monday evening, the number of confirmed cases on the ship with 3,700 passengers had risen to 136.

Young, 48, boarded the Diamond Princess on January 25 at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal with his wife.

Young Wo-sang is marooned on the Diamond Princess, where passengers are told to stay in their tiny rooms. Photo: Handout

He said he was worried that the emergence of new cases could lead to an extension of the quarantine period.

“I hope we can leave as scheduled or even earlier,” Young said.

“The captain made an announcement that the Japanese authorities were concerned about the new cases, but he stopped short of saying whether we can leave on February 19. So we just don’t know when we are going to leave.”

Young said passengers had only been allowed to leave their rooms for up to 1½ hours a day since the boat was berthed at the port of Yokohama, which sits 36km south of Tokyo.

Announcements informed passengers when it was time for them to go to an area on deck where masked crew would hand out facial coverings and remind them not to get too close to others.

“We did not go out. We just open the balcony doors during the day to get the room ventilated with fresh air, and close them in the evening as it can get quite cold here,” he said.

“We also got a new set of bedding today as well, though the staff members wouldn’t come in and do it for us.”

Japan finds 65 more coronavirus infections on Diamond Princess cruise ship

Young also said they had been spending time watching films in their room, and taking advantage of the complimentary Wi-fi to stay in touch with the outside world.

“It’s not too boring, as we can also watch TV and play crossword puzzles delivered to our room,” he said.

His chief concern, however, was the meals and when they were served.

A passenger is not impressed with the food, saying it arrives at strange times of the day. Photo: Handout

“Every day, we can choose from a few options on what we want to have for lunch and dinner the next day. But there’s no choice for breakfast – you are either surprised or shocked by what you get each morning,” he said.

“Sometimes we get our breakfast as early as 7am, and we don’t get our lunch until 2pm. And then there’s dinner at 6pm.”

Another Hong Kong resident, a woman who only gave her surname Yeung, also said that food was an issue. “Sometimes we get our dinner as late as 9pm,” she said.

Yeung said she had been staying in her room with her husband the whole time because going out would only increase the risk of infection.

“It is quite boring here. I just spend time walking around in the room and watching the harbour, as well as those boats and helicopters hired by Japanese media to take a closer look at us,” she said.

“I am a bit worried about the new cases of confirmed infections, but it should be all right as long as we open the balcony doors. We also had our temperature checked last week and were each given a thermometer.”

Medical workers prepare to transfer Diamond Princess passengers who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Photo: Reuters

In Hong Kong, Democratic Party legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan has urged the health and immigration departments to negotiate with Japanese authorities to charter a flight returning Hongkongers to their home city, where they would be isolated.

“It is very dangerous to stay on the Diamond Princess,” she said.

Yeung agreed. “I want to come back earlier, I hope the authorities can make the flight arrangements,” she said.

Guidelines? Hotels say they have no details on quarantine measures

Pro-establishment lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun said that apart from an evacuation, Hong Kong and Beijing authorities should also consider sending more officials to help Hong Kong residents onboard.

“They also need psychological support because they were only allowed to take a walk on the deck for a short time everyday,” he said.

Cheng also proposed that rather than lock up passengers in small cabins, Japanese authorities should transfer people to larger facilities, such as holiday camps, barracks or hospitals, for quarantine.

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said the government and its Tokyo office had been trying to help Hongkongers aboard the Diamond Princess. They have contacted Beijing and Tokyo’s foreign ministries, the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, and the cruise company to understand the situation.

She said Hong Kong officials would stay in touch with the Chinese and Japanese authorities, adding that immigration officers had travelled from the city to Tokyo to provide medical support to the Hongkongers in need.

She said among the 260 Hong Kong residents, three had been infected by the virus and hospitalised in Japan.

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