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The pleasure trip that never was: Our ‘Diamond Princess’ experience

CONTRIBUTED BY MARJORIE CANTILLER KOA

The Diamond Princess in Yokohama Bay being boarded by the Japanese Ministry of Health representatives*

For three months every year, Henry and I would leave home in Vancouver where we permanently reside, for our retirement home in Bacolod to escape from the cold of the December solstice and migrate to the warm equinox of March to spend our “winter” like typical “snowbirds.”

This time, after a long pre-dawn planning, we decided first on a side trip to Yokohama, Japan, and join the “Diamond Princess” cruise from there. The cruise would be a round-trip venture that would take us to 6 ports of call. It would cost us only $699 each for 14 days, so dirt cheap indeed as we were computing a benchmark of $100 per day. On the 1st of January 2020, we took off from Vancouver to Manila with connecting flight to Bacolod.

In Bacolod, while waiting for our trip to Yokohama, we joined my niece, Meryl’s family, to visit a tourist spot in Bohol before proceeding to Yokohama.

On the 18th of January, we left Bacolod for Manila where we stayed overnight for our flight to Yokohama the following day to join the now much talked about “Diamond Princess” to depart from Yokohama on the 20th and return on Feb 4.

The sea adventure was exciting, smooth, fine and uneventful. Everybody was enjoying.

Alas! A day before we arrived HK a disturbing news filled the air that a mysterious virus was wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China. This aborted the plan to go down in HK and proceed to Macau for fear that the corona venom might have already spread there.

And so while still in HK, the passengers were told to disembark for immigration and temperature check. Of the six ports of call lined up for us, Henry and I decided to see only more of Halong Bay, Vietnam, where we enjoyed a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The views were indeed fantastic and spectacular! Although we also went down at the other ports of call, we just stayed close to the ship; no more shopping and sightseeing.

While our ship was “at sea,” we were invited to join entertainment activities, e.g., Zumba, tai chi, line and ballroom dancing, and other forms of entertainment prepared for the guests. A buffet restaurant and several specialty cuisines were open for our dining pleasure.

Musical shows were shown in the big “Princess Theatre” after dinner; magic shows and musical numbers were performed in the Atrium; shopping in boutiques tax-free. Where could we find, we asked ourselves, a vacation that could offer all these with opportunities to visit enjoyable places for only $50 a day?

Several ambulances waiting at the dock in Yokohama to transport positive passengers*

On the way back to Yokohama, we learned that an 80-year-old male passenger who boarded with us together with two companions in Yokohama at the start of the cruise disembarked in HK five 5 days after.

On January 30, the senior citizen checked himself in a local hospital in HK. He was found positive for the coronavirus. This excited and alarmed all of us no end; needless to stress, we feared for our comfort and safety.

The “Diamond Princess” had to return quickly to Yokohama arriving there in the evening of February 3 instead of the scheduled morning arrival on February 4. Upon arrival, we were met with another problem. We were not permitted to dock and our ship just had to drop anchor somewhere at Yokohama Bay. But what alarmed us most was the fact that Japanese medics came rushing to board the ship and then taking everyone’s temperature, which they did all day. Then the more dreaded news came.

Ten other passengers on board with us were found positive of the virus that caused us to be quarantined on board for 14 days!

LIFE DURING QUARANTINE

Another disconcerting and worrisome reality was regarding booked return flights that would be forfeited.

Fortunately, after announcing this confounded report, the captain of the cruise announced that all amounts paid for the cruise would be refunded by Princess Cruises, and that everyone on board would have a free cruise anytime within the next 2 years.

Marjorie and Henry Koa’s turn on deck to get some sun and fresh air while quarantined for 14 days.*

To allay the fears of our families regarding our return home, free access to the Internet was provided, where prior thereto, we had to pay $165 for 14 days with a limit to only one device.

Long-distance calls were also offered free and more tv channels were added for our convenience. We did not mind the inconvenience at first being holed up in our rooms, as the food was abundantly served.

But, for a diabetic like Henry, he could no longer have the keto diet that was being fed him as we no longer had any choice on the food being served. Towards the end of one week in quarantine, Henry’s insulin was running low as he had to double his intake due to the high carbs diet given us – rice toppers for lunch and rice toppers also for dinner. His request for additional insulin was not immediately filled.

As he was nearing the last day with his insulin supply, we began to panic. Our follow-up calls to Passenger Services were met with promises of being delivered “as we speak.”

Finally, a friend on board dialed the ship’s 911 to say that Henry was now in distress. I also called to say that we were going to have an emergency soon if that life-saving insulin would not be delivered at once. Thankfully, in a few minutes, we received the insulin.

We found out later that the clinic was overwhelmed with more than 2,000 prescription requests. The delay was exacerbated by a Japanese pharmacist who alone could personally sort out and dispense the medicines as they were all labeled in Japanese and nobody else in the ship’s clinic could read and write in Japanese.

This was among our most anxiety-laden moments in our trip, which reminded me then of 1 Peter 5:7, to quote, “Turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you.”

From then on I was nudged by the Holy Spirit to take heed and trust everything to the Lord. Another most critical moment was when we had to decide whether to take the Canadian Repatriation Flight arranged by the government of Canada. While our children back home in Vancouver were adamantly urging us to take the flight, Henry and I had to consider the matter seriously fully aware that the American Repatriation Flight a few days earlier had passengers infected with the dreaded virus.

Marjorie and Henry Koa with the Filipino servers who along with the rest of the crew were the last ones to disembark.*

We pondered whether to expose ourselves and risk getting the virus too in a crowded plane. My sister Miriam, suggested that I seek a Word of Knowledge from the LGI pastors. Several gladly responded, with Ptr Mina coordinating the prophecies.

One of them prophesied that she saw a Canadian flag, which meant, that we should take the flight. We were thus advised that the flight was to arrive at Haneda Airport in the evening of Feb 17. And so, on the 18th, we had already all our bags packed for the flight.

Alas, it was not meant to be as there were conflicting reports about this flight. There was flip-flopping on the dates. Then we received the disappointing news that the Canadian plane had been delayed. However, like a manna from heaven – an answer to our family’s prayers and those who wished us well – we received our Health Certificates from the Japanese Health Ministry that our throat swabs showed we were NEGATIVE of the coronavirus. What a relief! This was one time, when I said, that the word NEGATIVE assumed a POSITIVE connotation!

Of course, we rejoiced at the good news. Again, we consulted our family about whether we should disembark the following day since we had already completed the required 14-day quarantine and now FREE TO GO.

But, again, another dilemma confronted us: Should we wait for the Canadian plane that was a bit uncertain to come at that moment, or take a chance to go back to Manila and find our way to our retirement home in Bacolod?

Each day, the captain announced more passengers were infected! Still another bad news came that rattled us again. The Canadian Embassy in Japan issued a warning to the Canadian passengers that those who did not take their flight and planned to go to other countries, would have their passports “flagged” as having been on the “Diamond Princess” – considered then as having the largest cluster of coronavirus outside of Wuhan, China.

My sister Miriam again suggested that we ask for another Word of Knowledge. This time her daughter, Cookie, was involved in coordinating with the pastors. The prophesied word came again – “It is safe!”

Here was another enormous challenge. If we should return to Manila, we were uncertain whether Henry would be allowed to enter being a Canadian citizen who never acquired a dual citizenship, and the news from Manila was that foreigners were refused entry especially those from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Upon verification, however, from Philippine Airlines (PAL), we were able to confirm that only those persons exhibiting high temperatures – over 37.5 degrees centigrade would be refused entry. We had to make a crucial decision: We had to take a flight back to Manila. After all, our point of origin was Manila and our return ticket to Vancouver was for April 5. Like doting parents to their newborn child, we excitedly called Passenger Services in the cruise ship and told them we had decided to disembark the following day.

Our hopes and excitement were dashed again! We were told that since we had earlier indicated that we would take the Canadian Repatriation Flight, we would be unable to leave the ship as they could only process 700 people at a time per day. What a disappointment again! We went to bed totally crushed as we were already pumped up to leave the ship and fly back to the Philippines. I could only console myself that perhaps, “God has other plans for us.”

As I said my prayer that night, surrendering ourselves over to God’s will, I suddenly caught a vision that ALL would be well. I had to assure Henry who was so depressed that all would be well with us. As we slept, God was making other plans.

Marjorie and Henry Koa welcomed on shore by the Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz*

Very early the next morning, we were awakened by a telephone call. It was Passenger Services asking if we wanted to disembark that morning. Of course, we said, YES! On Feb 20, we were finally on our way to Bacolod, Philippines, with a stopover in Manila spending overnight at the Marriott near the airport. Praise the Lord!

On Feb. 21, we finally arrived in our retirement home in Bacolod where we voluntarily went on self-quarantine for 2 weeks. Before the end of the period, we decided to check ourselves in a hospital which found us NEGATIVE – of COVID 19.

Again, God showed His mighty hand and our tests came in all CLEAR! After seeing the NHK Documentary, we began to appreciate what went behind the scenes from the Japanese medical and scientific study of the virus.

A friend said that he was pretty sure we would also get infected because of the sheer number – a total of 700+ infected passengers and crew and 14 deaths. How could we not be, as we were ideal candidates being seniors and immuno-compromised?

It is a miracle that we survived this ordeal! Seeing the slide in the documentary showing red dots where infected passengers were situated on the ship, we realized that we were surrounded by many infected people. We had eaten at the buffet restaurant, watched several shows in the theatre, touched elevator buttons and lined-up shoulder to shoulder with other people watching shows at the Atrium.

The very same things and places those infected passengers have been to and done…and yet we were spared! There is only one explanation! God listened to the prayers offered by our family, friends, pastors and prayer warriors we didn’t even know from around the world, including Africa. He showed his Mighty hand in blocking the virus from entering our lungs. He paved the way for a safe passage from the ship to Bacolod.

He blessed our blind decisions made with only faith in our hearts – and He delivered us!! There were so many roadblocks sent our way by the devil to thwart our plans to leave the ship.

In closing, I would like to share with you Nahum 1: 7 that says “The Lord is Good. He protects those who trust Him in times of trouble.” Let us cling to this verse even now as we swim across the pandemic tide. To Him be the Glory and Majesty….AMEN!*

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