The Diamond Princess cruise ship has almost 3700 passengers and crew in quarantine off the coast of Yokohama, after an infected passenger flew from Wuhan to Tokyo and spread the disease to others on board.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed it is aware of the situation, and is urgently seeking information on the welfare of the Australians on board.
The ship has been placed in quarantine for 14 days, and the infected passengers are being treated on mainland Japan.
Japanese doctors are on board checking every passenger’s temperature, in a bid to contain a potential mass outbreak.
It’s believed more than 200 Australian citizens are on the ship, which had a 14-day itinerary around Japan and Hong Kong.
Passengers claim they have not been given food in almost 24 hours after the ship was quarantined and all on board were confined to their rooms.
Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Gay Courter is one of the thousands of people trapped on board.
The 75-year-old American was travelling with close friends, including her family doctor and his wife.
She said there were hall monitors to make sure everyone stayed in their cabins and that they were not being updated on the situation regularly.
“All information comes to us primarily from the captain who makes periodic announcements. He started off as a very cheery captain saying that he was on the Diamond Princess ‘the happiest ship on the seas,’ now he just sounds more and more tired and defeated,” she said.
She said one of the main reasons for the lack of communication was that the ship’s management was at the mercy of the Japanese authorities,” but that they had also made tactical errors.
“As soon as they learned that a passenger who was on the ship for five days between Yokohama and Hong Kong had tested positive for the virus, they should have immediately put into effect infection controls like they do when there is a norovirus (gastro) on the ship,” she said.
“Also, they did not restrict the movement of passengers until the Japanese authorities insisted everyone be tested and therefore we were allowed to mingle and continue regular activities in large groups.”
Australian passenger Katherine Jones said that they now had live TV including access to ABC broadcasts in Australia.
“We are currently out of the harbour to capture sea water to run their desalination plant to top up our water supply and will return in the morning to pick up supplies,” she told the Herald and The Age.
Paul and Jacqui Fidrmuc are two other Australians stranded on board. “It’s going to be a bit difficult,” Ms Fidrmuc told Nine News.
“We’re here for the long haul … we could jump overboard but it’s a bit cold,” she joked.
The couple were concerned that the symptoms of the virus could take up to two weeks to appear.
“We could have it right now, we would not know,” Mr Fidrmuc said.
Two Australians have been diagnosed with the disease, out of at least 10 passengers who have the coronavirus.
The catalyst for the virus’s spread was an 80-year-old man who flew into Tokyo on January 17 with his two daughters before developing symptoms.
He boarded the ship in Yokohama on January 20, before disembarking in Hong Kong five days later and never returning. He is in hospital in Hong Kong and has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Since then Japan’s Health Minister has said 10 additional passengers have also tested positive.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said 13 Australians had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including the two on the cruise ship.
“I have been informed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been able to confirm two Australians with coronavirus on a cruise ship in Japan,” he told federal Parliament.
“They will be provided medical assistance and I’m advised they will be given passage to an appropriate medical facility in Japan and we thank the Japanese government for that.”
On Wednesday night, the number of infected people in Australia rose to 14 after Queensland reported its fourth case – a 37-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan.