After being confined for 14 days to a cabin aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess in Japan, Bryan Doyle and Lucie Mauro arrived Friday morning at the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont., exhausted and under tremendous psychological stress.
They’re among 129 Canadian passengers who will now be quarantined for another 14 days in Cornwall even though they’ve tested negative for the highly contagious coronavirus and have shown no symptoms of the pneumonia-like illness it causes, COVID-19.
The Montreal couple have been assigned a small dorm room with only a single chair, a night table and a desk. It’s in these spartan quarters that they’ll have to eat three meals a day that come delivered in boxes. The space is so tight that they’ve had to stack their luggage against the wall.
A sense of claustrophobia is setting in for the retired couple. Doyle, who is 63, is particularly worried about his wife’s psychological well-being.
“She’s really upset. That’s what hurts me,” Doyle said, his voice breaking over the phone. “She’s losing it.
“I’ve been down to the Red Cross desk and I’ve told them of the distress that Lucie’s in,” he added. ‘I said, ‘This is not our first day of quarantine. It’s Day 18 of the quarantine and it’s getting to us.’ ”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, expressed sympathy on Friday for the Diamond Princess passengers, who in addition to the Japanese quarantine, spent 27 hours travelling from Yokohama to Cornwall.
“I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the stressful and difficult situation that these returning Canadians have faced over the last couple of weeks while remaining in isolation on the Diamond Princess,” Tam told reporters in a conference call.
“With this in mind, we are doing whatever we can to make their time in quarantine as comfortable as possible. That includes providing social support and mental-health services.”
On their first day back in Canada, however, none of the returning Canadians received psychological support.
The Canadian government is enforcing 24-hour security at the Nav centre to prevent unauthorized access and to ensure that none of the people in quarantine leaves the facility prematurely.
“We are taking these measures at the NAV centre out of an abundance of caution to mitigate any risk and prevent spread of COVID-19 within Canada,” Tam explained. “Should any of the returning Canadians show symptoms of COVID-19, they will be assessed in quarantine, and if necessary, transported to hospital.”
It can take up to 14 days for a person infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus to develop symptoms. Normally, that would mean that the Diamond Princess passengers who tested negative should be able to go home.
But the Japanese quarantine was so poorly managed that the novel virus spread like wildfire, infecting more than 620 passengers, nearly one-fifth of all people on the luxury liner. The outbreak on the ship was the largest outside of mainland China, were nearly 76,000 people have been infected and more than 2,200 people have died.
Doyle noted everyone’s demeanour on the Diamond Princess “was pretty upbeat, surprisingly so, right up until the end, but today things changed. There were a lot of cracks showing.”
Nearly half of the passengers on the Diamond Princess were Japanese, and after the quarantine ended on Wednesday, they were able to disembark and return home. Not so for the Canadian passengers. What’s jarring for many of the passengers in Cornwall is that they’re back in Canada, but not in their homes; they’ve tested negative, yet they have to put up with the another 14 days in quarantine.
While in Japan, they struggled to get information from the Canadian embassy, and now in Canada, Doyle said they still don’t know exactly what they can and can’t do while in isolation.
“Everybody we’ve met has been super nice,” he added. “It’s just the way things are coordinated.”
The Nav centre boasts more than 500 guest rooms and suites. If it’s not too much to ask, Doyle asked kindly, perhaps they could be given a larger room in which to spend the next two weeks in isolation.