Canadians on board a cruise ship currently under quarantine in Japanese waters have been provided an escape route, after the Canadian government announced it plans to bring them home due to the “extraordinary circumstances” faced by passengers.
But the offer comes with a catch — those evacuated from the Diamond Princess will have to spend another two weeks in isolation on Canadian soil to make sure that they don’t carry the coronavirus that is currently spreading through Asia.
The decision raises questions about whether the government is being over-zealous in its use of quarantine, as the passengers were set to be released this Wednesday if they passed a final health check.
From quarantine to quarantine
Would-be evacuees had mixed reactions immediately after learning the news, with some saying the quarantine added a sour note to the otherwise sweet development.
“Well, you know, it’s not OK, but it’s better than here,” passenger Trudy Clement said. “We’ll be home.”
She said the evacuation gives her something to look forward to after weeks aboard a ship she previously described as a “luxurious prison.”
WATCH | Not looking forward to another 2 weeks of isolation:
“The only hurdle we’ve got to cross now is they’re swabbing everybody,” Clement said. “So as long as neither one of us comes up positive, we’ll be on that plane.”
Paul Mirko, a Richmond, B.C., resident, said he’s not happy about swapping one quarantine for another, but that he doesn’t have much choice in the matter.
“We feel forced to do this under duress,” said Mirko. “To have to endure another 14 days and possibly not have to go outside is very irksome and I feel quite upset over the whole thing.”
Mirko questioned the utility of the quarantine and said that neither himself nor his wife, Kayoko, have shown any symptoms over the past two weeks while under quarantine.
The Japanese government forced around 3,600 people on board the Diamond Princess into quarantine on Feb. 3 off Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, in a move that infectious disease experts have criticized for doing more harm than good.
So far, 355 people on the cruise ship have contracted the illness caused by the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, including 15 Canadians. Those infected represent the largest cluster of cases outside of China, according to the World Health Organization.
“In light of the extraordinary circumstances facing our citizens on the Diamond Princess, we are taking action to return Canadians home from Japan, while ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to prevent and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus,” said Foreign Affairs Minister François-Phillippe Champagne.
The repatriated Canadians will be flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario — where several hundred other Canadians are isolated after being evacuated from Wuhan, China — before being transported to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont., where they will be quarantined for another 14 days.
Global Affairs Canada said passengers will be screened for signs of the coronavirus before being allowed to board the plane out of Japan. Those who have symptoms will be transferred to the Japanese health-care system.
WATCH | Doctor questions need for another quarantine:
Dr. Ross Upshur, a physician and researcher who studies public health ethics at the University of Toronto, said there may be precautionary reasons for extending the quarantine of the returning Canadians, but that this needs to be clearly communicated.
“I would want to know what risk information has occurred and has been found out that necessitates an additional 14 days quarantine, when they were 24 or 48 hours now away from completing their quarantine,” said Upshur.
Upshur said if the quarantine is necessary, it’s important for the government to ensure proper supports for those in isolation because of the known psychological harms caused by such restrictive measures.