Number of Coronavirus Cases Aboard Diamond Princess Reaches 135

Quarantined passengers aboard Diamond Princess (image via social media)

Published Feb 10, 2020 8:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, health authorities in Yokohama reported that they have identified an additional 66 cases of coronavirus infection aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 135. 

According to Princess Cruises, the nationalities of the new cases are Australia (four), Canada (one), England (one), Japan (45), Philippines (three), Ukraine (one) and the United States (11). 

Epidemiologists have cautioned that the new cases may actually be old cases. The incubation period for the virus is about four to six days, or perhaps even longer, and the quarantine aboard Diamond Princess has only been in effect for five days. "Since it is early in the quarantine period of 14 days, it was not unexpected that additional cases would be reported involving individuals who were exposed prior to the start of the quarantine," Princess said in a statement. "The quarantine end date remains at February 19, unless there are any unforeseen developments."

After the disembarkation of these individuals for hospitalization and treatment, about 3,600 people will remain quarantined aboard the vessel. Of these, the 1,000-plus members of the Diamond Princess' crew may be especially vulnerable to contracting the illness. They sleep in multi-person staterooms of up to four bunks each, and they come into contact with passengers' dirty dishes, towels and other service items as they pick up and drop off supplies outside cabins. 

As yet there is no evidence to suggest that the virus can spread through the ventilation system. However, the necessity of crew contact for meals and service may be a sticking point for the attempts to shut down the virus' spread on board. Peter Rabinowitz, co-director of the University of Washington MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness, told the Washington Post that it may be time to reevalute tactics. “It’s a real dilemma, and I think it’s testing the limits of public health measures to prevent a disease like this,” he said. “It does not appear that the transmission is dying off. It’s time for a real assessment to see if controls are working and anything can be done to improve the control of the problem.”

Regardless of the length of their stay on board, Diamond Princess' passengers will all benefit from a full refund and a future cruise credit equal to the fare paid for the voyage. 

“Our guests and crew onboard Diamond Princess are the focus of our entire global organization right now and all of our hearts are with each of them,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises president. “In this unprecedented situation, the Japanese Ministry of Health authorities are working with us collaboratively on additional enhancements, approving new procedures as we adapt our process to the unique challenges of this situation.”  

Coronavirus impacts multiple cruise sailings

In Hong Kong, the passengers of the cruise ship World Dream were released from quarantine on Sunday after all suspected cases tested negative for the virus. They had been in isolation on board for four days. Three former passengers came down with the illness and were diagnosed after leaving the ship, and health officials wanted to ensure that the crew had not been infected. 

Meanwhile, the cruise ship Westerdam continues her search for a destination port in the Western Pacific. The ship has no confirmed or suspected cases on board, but because she called in Hong Kong late last month, she has met with a cold welcome; Hong Kong is under quarantine and is subject to travel restrictions. Health authorities in the Philippines, Japan, Guam and (now) Thailand have refused to allow Westerdam to disembark passengers on their territories. On Tuesday, Thailand's public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a statement that the vessel - which had expected to finally make a port call at Chon Buri this Thursday - wold not be allowed in the country. 

In New Jersey, a coronavirus scare aboard the cruise ship Anthem of the Seas turned out to be a false alarm. The Anthem briefly delayed her upcoming voyage from the port of Bayonne, New Jersey while the Centers for Disease Control tested four Chinese passengers for the possibility of infection. None tested positive, and the vessel took on passengers for her next voyage on Sunday.