Anxious passengers wait to leave cruise ship

Several hundred passengers who have endured a torrid 14-day quarantine on board a coronavirus-riddled cruise ship in Japan are set to disembark Wednesday -- if they have tested negative.
The Diamond Princess moored in Yokohama has proved a fertile breeding ground for the virus, with at least 542 positive cases, and Japan has come under fire for its handling of the quarantine arrangements.
The initial 3,700 passengers and crew on board from 56 nations have seen a dream cruise turn into a nightmare as they battled fear and crushing boredom on the vessel, some confined to small windowless cabins apart from brief periods of exercise on deck.
"If you and your roommate are both negative and have no fever or respiratory symptoms, you will be able to prepare for disembarkation," Japanese officials told passengers in a letter, adding it would take at least three days to process everyone.
For the travellers, this means a painful wait for test results, that can take several days to evaluate.
"We still need our test results, so we're holding off any celebration yet," U.S. lawyer Matt Smith told AFP from on board. "The feeling is anxious."
British passenger David Abel, who became a minor celebrity with his upbeat video messages in the early days of the quarantine, typified the shift of mood aboard.
"It's all getting to us now and it's not just me, it's the other passengers as well. It's the not-knowing factor that is the real challenge. Mentally, it's now taking its toll. Right now, it's very hard to remain focused on anything," he said.
He later announced he and his wife Sally had tested positive.
The Diamond Princess ship is easily the biggest cluster of positive cases outside the Chinese epicenter, with more people succumbing to the virus than in the rest of the world put together.
Around 500 people are expected to leave Wednesday, with more following in the coming days, but not everyone will be allowed to get off so soon.
Anyone who has come into contact with someone who later proved positive has their 14-day quarantine period "reset".
In addition, the crew will begin a quarantine when the last passenger has disembarked.
Many crew have refused to speak to media for fear of losing their jobs, but some have broken their silence to voice worries over their conditions, as they work and eat together and sleep several to a cabin.
People in Yokohama appeared supportive of the decision to allow the passengers out despite the virus fears.
"I am sure those people on board must be really worried. I hope they can go back to their normal life soon," said 51-year-old Isamu Habiro.
"As a Yokohama resident, I don't want them to be treated unfairly. I want to cheer for them," Habiro told AFP.

© 2020 AFP
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