75-year-old Quebec couple diagnosed with coronavirus aboard cruise

Two Quebecers aboard a cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus, their daughter confirmed Saturday morning. 

Diane and Bernard Ménard, from Cantley, Que., were among 3,500 people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The ship has been docked at a Japanese port amid a COVID-19 quarantine since Feb. 4. 

The elderly couple, both 75, had been dealing with symptoms over the last week, daughter Chantal Ménard, told Radio-Canada Saturday morning. 

After a few days dealing with a fever and cough, they contacted the medical centre where they were tested. 

"The worst symptom was definitely weakness. Over the past two days, they were just sleeping," Ménard said. "The last four days, they were almost no longer eating."

30 minutes to pack

The couple was in their room aboard the ship when they heard a knock on their door. A staff member passed them a letter from the doctor that said they had 30 minutes to pack their belongings and head to a hospital. 

Ménard first heard the news from her parents early Saturday morning. They video chatted with her and the rest of their family around 2:00 a.m. 

"We received the news like a bomb," said Ménard. 

The couple will be treated at a military hospital in Japan, Ménard said. There, they will be placed in separate isolated chambers, where they will be allowed to communicate by walkie-talkie. 

The couple's trip to the hospital was delayed, Ménard said. Because each patient has to be transported individually, and because there were 67 new cases on the ship Saturday, authorities struggled to send enough ambulances to the site. 

"These are elderly people, 75 years old, at the other end of the planet. They're sick and it's the unknown to them," said Ménard. 

"They don't even know how much time they'll be in the hospital." 

Submitted by Alexie Ferreira

The couple's grandaughter Alexie Ferreira said her family stayed up all night, video chatting them and crying. 

"It's really hard for my grandparents and it was very difficult for the whole family because we feel a bit helpless," said Ferreira. 

"My grandfather [said] last night, 'I cannot be separated from Diane. It's been 60 years that we've never left each other.' So I think that was another thing that was really scary for them.'"

Growing frustration with Canadian government

Ménard said she's been contacting Canadian authorities repeatedly since Feb. 5, asking for the repatriation of her parents, but never heard back.

Now, she hopes the Canadian government "acts quickly for the other Quebecers and Canadians who are still on the ship. Let them not suffer from the same fate as my parents."

The U.S. government will be sending an aircraft to Japan on Sunday, to take American passengers on the quarantined ship back to the U.S. 

On Saturday, Canada's public health agency deployed three agents to the ship in Japan, to evaluate the situation. 

"The personnel on the grounds are evaluating the risks for Canadians in Japan. Afterwards, we will consider our options and the next steps," said Canada's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo. 

Njoo would not comment on specific cases, but said it would be up to Global Affairs Canada to decide whether to send the Ménard couple, and the rest of the ship's passengers, back to Canada. 

"From what I understand though, for Canadians infected with the coronavirus, it's better to stay in the Japan hospital to receive treatment in Japan," said Njoo.

He said Global Affairs officials have been supporting the passengers aboard the ship and their family members. All passengers and family members who are concerned are asked to contact consular services. 

There have been 15 Canadians diagnosed with COVID-19 on the ship so far.

On Saturday morning, 67 new cases were found on the cruise ship, bringing the total to 285 cases out of the 3,500 passengers and crew aboard the ship.