Coronavirus: Briton who caught COVID-19 calls ship’s quarantine ‘a joke’

Written by on 20/02/2020

A British newlywed who contracted COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan has described quarantine protocols on the ship as “a joke”.

Alan Steele, 58, from Shropshire, was the first British passenger revealed to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, while onboard the ship that was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama.

On his honeymoon at the time, the lorry driver was taken to hospital in Tokyo and placed in isolation while his new wife, Wendy, had to stay alone in their cabin.

Speaking exclusively to Sky News after spending almost two weeks in hospital, he said he got a call a few days after he had a coronavirus swab test telling him he had tested positive and medics were coming to collect him.

He is one of four British passengers on the ship to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with more than 600 others also testing positive – the highest concentration outside mainland China.

On Thursday, officials confirmed two Japanese patients in their 80s who caught the virus onboard died. Both are said to have had underlying health issues.

The Japanese government has defended the way it has managed the quarantine, saying “thorough action” to prevent the spread has been taken including using masks, disinfectant and keeping people apart.

But Mr Steele disagrees.

“The quarantine process was a joke, an utter joke.

“I think there was a terrific rise in numbers because they had people just wandering all around the ship going cabin to cabin to cabin.

“So, if they caught it in one cabin then they’re just spreading it to everyone else aren’t they.

“Because at this point we weren’t given masks or nothing, it was only later they gave anybody masks to go to the door.”

This week, passengers have finally started disembarking, with the British Foreign Office confirming a plane will arrive on Friday to bring the Britons home.

Once in the UK, they will have to spend another 14 days in quarantine on the Wirral – a prospect Mr Steele is dreading after his recent experience.

Other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea are also evacuating their nationals from the ship.

While grateful to Princess Cruises for all of their support, Mr Steele believes the UK government has treated them “pretty badly” and has been too slow to offer help.

He said: “I know poor Boris has got his hands full, he’s got Brexit, reshuffling his cabinet, the floods, so I suppose 78 Brits, what the hell do they matter?

“To be honest, the embassy wanted me to keep in touch with them and they did phone the hospital every day to see how I was doing but anyone can do that, that’s not a big deal.”

Mr Steele said his stay in hospital was very lonely but he was more concerned for his wife being all alone on the ship.

“I wasn’t scared because obviously I knew I was in safe hands. It’s not like it’s a third-world country or anything,” he said.

“The anxiety is not knowing anything and the language barrier as well.

“My biggest worry was having to leave Wendy. To be honest, she’s been doing better than I thought she would. A lot better. Yes, she struggled, but who wouldn’t?”

Mr Steele first confirmed he had tested positive for the virus in a Facebook post on 7 February and was then taken to hospital and placed in isolation.

Despite the potentially stressful situation he laughed as he remembered the chaotic journey to the clinic.

“The first ambulance bringing me to the hospital got lost,” he said.

“We turned around and when we came to the hospital they’d all got these flourescent jackets with little lights on.

“It felt like there were 100 people standing outside the hospital, all in these gowns. I felt like an alien.”

Once in hospital, he had to stay in quarantine until he tested negative for the virus on two separate occasions.

Throughout his treatment he said he had no symptoms.

“I got everything I needed to a point, but it was also just so sterile. It’s like solitary confinement in prison.

“You’ve got no-one to talk to. You’ve got nurses coming in, you’ve got doctors coming in but I can’t talk to them.

“I can’t have a conversation with them because they don’t understand what I’m saying.”

(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus: Briton who caught COVID-19 calls ship’s quarantine ‘a joke’

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