Quebec couple quarantined on cruise ship say Ottawa's reaction to coronavirus 'too little too late'

It has been almost two weeks since Manon Trudel and Julien Bergeron first boarded the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was suddenly turned into a floating quarantine station.

And it will be at least another two weeks before the couple is allowed to return to their Montreal home.

Whenever they do get home, they're likely to stay put for a while. "Do you think, for a second, that I can think about travelling again?" Trudel said Sunday from her windowless cabin aboard the ship. 

The Diamond Princess has been docked in Yokohama, Japan, since Feb. 3, following an outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) onboard. 

On Saturday, the Canadian government announced it was sending a chartered plane to repatriate the Canadian passengers. 

But for Trudel and Bergeron, that announcement did not come soon enough. "I feel the government reacted too late. Too little, too late," said Bergeron. "I think they reacted because the U.S. reacted." 

A U.S. aircraft arrived Sunday to repatriate the American passengers onboard. Canadian passengers will have to wait until Tuesday to leave the ship, Bergeron said.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Trudel was on-deck — which passengers are allowed to use for an hour, once a day — when she heard the news about the U.S. passengers. 

"There were at least 10 American passengers on the deck at the time, and they were cheering and jumping. We felt happy for them," Trudel said. 

But Trudel began to cry as intercom messages on Sunday told American passengers to disembark. 

"I was always proud of my Canadian passport. But today, I would've loved to have an American one," she said. 

Quarantined for another 14 days

Canadians who are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection will be flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, in Ontario.

There they will be assessed and then transported to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall to undergo another 14-day quarantine.

"This period on the boat is supposed to be the quarantine, but it's not a quarantine. We're not isolated. We're not in a hospital," said Bergeron. "And then, we have to do it again."  

Trudel, who teaches a course on biological contaminants at CEGEP de Sorel-Tracy, is frustrated at the way the quarantine was handled by authorities.

Facebook Messenger screenshot

She said passengers were not given the right kind of masks to prevent transmission. "I took plenty of photos to play a game of 'find the mistakes' with my students when I get back," said Trudel. 

She's also been frustrated by the response of Canadian consular officials. Despite repeated efforts to contact them, the only response she's received is an email informing her that the embassy will not be able to reach her by phone.

Increased anxieties after other Quebec couple diagnosed

As the quarantine has worn on, Trudel's anxieties about contracting the coronavirus have increased. 

In the early stages of the quarantine, the ship's captain used the intercom to deliver daily messages about the number of passengers and crew infected with the coronavirus. 

Those messages stopped abruptly on Saturday, making Trudel nervous. Her fears grew stronger when they heard another Quebec couple aboard the ship — with whom they had been in touch by phone — was diagnosed with the illness on Saturday.

Quebec couple Diane and Bernard Ménard, both 75, were transported to a Japanese hospital for treatment Saturday morning. 

"We felt bad because if something was done before, perhaps they wouldn't have it. But now it's too late," Bergeron said.

On Sunday, the Ménard couple's daughter, Chantal Ménard, posted on Facebook, saying her father now has pneumonia as a result of the virus. 

Bergeron and Trudel have been especially afraid of the coronavirus since they both have respiratory issues. Bergeron suffered from pneumonia last year and Trudel has had tuberculosis in the past. 

They were tested for COVID-19 on Sunday morning. The results are expected within three days.