Corona Virus aboard! On their 66th wedding anniversary, a ghoulish visitor arrives.19 March 2020
It was their 66th wedding anniversary on March 16, but this was no prank call. Their visitors were the ship’s doctor and his nurse.
The couple, aged 89 and 86, had been locked in their luxury cabin for more than a week – confined, like all the passengers, in isolation after a 78-year-old Canadian passenger fell ill with Corona Virus. That passenger was removed from the cruise-liner to a hospital in the Brazilian port of Recipe.
Over 300 passengers, 108 of them British and most of the rest American, remain marooned on board the Silver Shadow, along with its more than 200 crew.
Conditions of isolation are so strict that the Brazilian authorities banned the cruise ship from offloading any rubbish in bins or sacks.
Disputes have broken out between the various governments involved over what to do with the passengers and crew. The Foreign Office, in a statement to passengers, says it is “working feverishly” to get them off the ship.
It’s likely now, correspondent.world learns from American government sources, that the ship owners will take them all in a special carter flight to the USA, before sending each of them home.
It’s still being decided if they will be further quarantined on arrival back in their home countries, or just have to undergo two weeks of self-isolation.
“All governments involved have to agree first to accept the passengers. It’s still being put together,” Mark Conroy, The Americas managing director of the ship’s owners, Silversea Cruises, told correspondent.world by phone from its Florida headquarters.
The doctor and nurse, who come daily to their cabin, do a check of temperature.
“The nurse points that thermometer thing about half an inch form our foreheads,” explained Alan,” and she calls out the numbers to the doctor,who stays just outside the cabin door.
“They were, of course, our only visitors on our clickety-click anniversary.
“I didn’t bother to tell them it was a special day. All we did to celebrate it was click and sip two cups of tea. There was no champagne!
“Mind you, I cannot complain about the service. They leave a tray outside our door three times a day, then the steward disappears and we creep out to bring it inside the cabin.
“We even have a restricted menu pushed under the door in the morning for the day’s choices. Not bad given the circumstances!”
His son Malcolm has written to their local MP Mike Freer, expressing fear that at their advanced ages his parents are at risk of “severe complications”. Theresa Villiers MP raised the ship passengers’ dilemma in the House of Commons on what coincidentally was the Cohens’ anniversary, and urged the government to find a solution fast.
Alan, who turns 90 this summer, sometimes does amateur talks on the history of art, and its relationship to music, on cruises – though not on this one.
Asked why, at their late-eighties ages, they had gone on a cruise in the current environment, Alan said: “It was a very difficult decision. We were thinking of cancelling it but there was not the hype there is now. We thought going up the South American coast we would be free of all this.”
He was surprised that correspondent.world managed to contact him and agreed to be photographed by smart phone. His wife Gwen agreed to appear too.
“What a contrast to last year’s anniversary – our 65th since we got married in Glasgow. We had a superb little party last March at my son’s home in Totteridge,” said Alan. “A cake with a lovely message on it. And a flattering photo.
“Now we can only talk to my son and daughter-in-law by WhatsApp – when I can get the darn thing to work.
“But we can chat to other passengers on the phones we have from cabin to cabin. And we’re so fortunate to have a balcony, so we can breathe fresh air and yell to our neighbours. Some on board don’t have balconies and I feel so sorry for them, all cooped up like that.”
In their younger days Alan and Gwen were both magistrates, and Alan ran a successful furniture-making factory in east London, as well as being a councillor for the London boroughs of Finchley and Barnet.
“From time to time we get announcements – like this one you can hear now – from the captain.
“He’s saying that the doctor, the one who visited us, has had a test and it turns out he does not have the corona virus, thank Goodness. So maybe soon we’ll all be out of here!
“Meanwhile, we wash our hands every hour – at least that’s what our son has told us to do, and especially after touching the tray.
”We are bored but well. It’s this interminable waiting that’s getting us down.”
“This was a dream cruise for a few days. The Caribbean beckoned too. Since we got on a plane to Brazil from London it’s cost us a lot. I’d rather not say how much.
“We may get some refunds and insurance pay-outs, but that is not even something on my mind.
“All we can think of is how nice it would be to be home in Hampstead Garden Suburb.”
The couple flew to Rio de Janeiro to join the cruise on March 7. It was supposed also to go to on from Latin America to the Caribbean, then finish at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on the 27th, March.
“They were told last week all the ship’s passengers and crew would have to stay confined on board for 14 days after the last case of corona virus,” their son Malcolm Cohen, also from London, told correspondent.world. “that’s unacceptable, it puts them at unnecessary risk.”
He wrote to the couple’s local MP Mike Freer:
“My parents are 89 and 86 years age and are, therefore, very vulnerable to serious complications. There are, we understand, 108 UK Nationals on this ship (one third of all passengers).
“The experience of the Diamond Princess in Yokohama and the Grand Princess in San Francisco/Oakland has shown that the best outcome relies on very early evacuation followed by isolation in the home country. There was much delay in the Diamond Princess which resulted in serious spread of the infection.”
He called for immediate government action.
And today (Thursday) he expressed frustration that an evacuation has still not started whereas a far bigger number of Britons are on their way home from a cruise ship that docked in Cuba.
“Every day that they delay could have serious consequences for the health of the elderly passengers like my mum and dad,” Malcolm Cohen told correspondent.world.
“Also the British ambassador to Brazil is sending messages to the passengers by his twitter feed. I asked the Foreign Office if they realise that the majority of Britions on board are elderly.
“My parents, I know, have not got a clue how to see things on twitter. They do have some web access and they have an email account. But they’ve heard not a dickie-bird on this.”