February 13, 2020, At Sea
A few days ago, we got an email from a friend contemplating a cruise and asking us how we thought the 2020 Coronavirus would affect their leaving from Singapore. Suzi explained that we are the LAST people she should ask because, being on a cruise ship, we probably know the least.
News on this cruise is spread by rumor which is only sometime backed by fact. It’s difficult to check up on rumors on line because the internet service is slow and intermittent. To give you an example, it takes me between two and three hours to upload a blogpost where the pictures have been fairly highly compressed. (Although I do have a lot of pictures, usually 30 per post.) Tuesday afternoon I started the download, went to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Which runs 2 hours 40 minutes, got back to see that my post had mostly loaded. The internet dropped twice during the upload and two pictures did not load, so I set the computer to upload those pictures and went to the live show. When I came back everything had uploaded so I hit publish and after I brushed my teeth it had gone live so I went to bed. On our only other world cruise the internet seemed faster but it was billed by the minute so I didn’t dare just walk away from it. Now it is metered by throughput. I can hit upload and walk away, and so can everyone else who is blogging, which may be why the internet is slower this time. (Hint, don’t send me videos or links to podcasts.)
What this means is that I can see the headlines on the NYT or Post app but when I click on the article it may or may not upload so I can read it. Therefore, you probably know more about the 2020 Coronavirus than I do. But I do try to check rumors and correct them when I can. For instance, a ship in Bayonne NJ was suspected of carrying infected passengers when it docked. The rumor spread that the virus was now threatening New Jersey and that a ship had been infected that had been nowhere near China or Hong Kong. When I finally was able to download the article from the Newark newspaper, I found that four people who had upper respiratory symptoms were being held in observation but that there were no confirmed cases. (Checking later, those four cases turned out to be negative.) Other, more lurid rumors abound, people have vivid imaginations. Some rumors sound like something Putin’s meme machine in St. Petersburg cranked out to disrupt the economy.
If symptoms of upper respiratory problems equaled having the virus half this ship would be quarantined. Every other person is coughing as the winter cold makes its rounds. I caught it, although in my case is very mild, usually my winter cold is a rip-roaring event. This time it is the sniffles. But even the presence of a cold on board is the cause of rumors. “It started with that opera singer, he sprayed the first three rows and then canceled his second show because of a sore throat.”
“No, it was a couple that lied on their health form and came on board with a cold. I hear they are confined to their cabin with a security guard at the door.” I have no idea if either of these are true and cite them only to illustrate how what passes for information spreads on the ship.
We have gotten notices from the ship. Regular reminders in our mail slot to cover up coughs, wash hands, and monitor our health. We have gotten a P.A. message from the Captain and a letter from the ship’s doctor outlining steps Holland America is taking to keep us healthy. Crew who have been in China or Hong Kong in the past 14 days are not being assigned to the ship. Crew change flights are routed around Hong Kong and China. Everyone coming on the ship (crew changes, new passengers, entertainers, even the harbor pilots) are screened before boarding including, in some cases, having temperatures taken and filing out a health and travel questionnaire. And in underlined type we are told by the Ship’s medical officer.
“Given the serious nature of these circumstances, false responses on pre-boarding documents will result in immediate grounds for disembarkation at the nest opportunity. Guests who do not disclose travel through prohibited areas in Asia may also face additional legal consequences.”
Holland America tells us they’re monitoring the situation closely to see if any itinerary changes will be necessary (there is already an informal passenger betting pool on which ports we will miss) as we head toward Asia. HAL tells us we need to be prepared for additional health screening as we disembark to visit future ports. (Temperature screening is not difficult if you have the right equipment. As you file by your forehead is scanned and if your forehead glows red on the monitor the pull you out for a more accurate check. The Cubans did this on our cruise there. The doctor let me watch the process.)
The one thing we do know is the saga of the poor Westerdam. She sailed from Singapore but after a call at Hong Kong she was denied landing in Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan, Guam and Thailand. She is kind of the modern Flying Dutchman. According to Holland America there is no indication of the disease on the ship. An officer in catering on this ship told me the passengers are being very well cared for with food and wine while they try to find a place to land, but it’s a creative challenge for the catering staff because they have not been able to re-provision along the way as planned. He was very proud of his colleagues. It looks like Cambodia is taking the ship in.
In the meantime, our cruise happily continues. We’ve just left the coast of South America heading for Easter Island. We’ve been backtracking on our westward voyage. We were two time zones East of Fort Lauderdale. Tuesday night we turned our clocks back so we are only one time zone East of our starting and ending point. Since Fort Lauderdale will be on Daylight time when we get back that means that we are now in the time zone where we will end up. Almost a third of the way through the cruise and only now do we will begin ticking off those 24 time zones that will take us around the world.
*Apologies to Oscar Brown Junior.