Health and Science

From 'Sexiest Legs' contest to quarantine in a windowless cruise ship cabin

Key Points
  • American Sawyer Smith is currently in quarantine with his brother and grandparents aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
  • The ship was locked down in quarantine in the port of Yokohama, Japan after a passenger was diagnosed with the coronavirus. 
  • About 3,700 people on the Diamond Princess face quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 virus cases, with testing continuing.
Workers wearing protective gear and an ambulance arrive to transfer passengers, who tested positive for coronavirus, from the cruise ship Diamond Princess to a hospital, after the ship arrived at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 6, 2020.
Kim Kyung-Hoon | Reuters

When American Sawyer Smith got hold of discount cruise tickets, he invited his brother and grandparents along for what they expected to be a luxurious treat, from Japan to Hong Kong and back again, full of good food and fun port calls along the way.

They boarded on Jan. 20 and all went well until a passenger, who had disembarked in Hong Kong, was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and their ship, the Diamond Princess, was locked down in quarantine just off Yokohama, the port south of Tokyo from where the tour had started.

Now Sawyer, 25, his brother and their grandparents, Clyde and Renee, both 80, are spending their second full day in a cabin that, as Renee told Reuters by phone from the ship, is tiny.

"We don't have a window, there are four of us - and only one chair," she said.

About 3,700 people on the Diamond Princess face quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 virus cases, with testing continuing.

Everybody's temperature was taken by health officials who swarmed the ship, with Clyde and Renee - who'd been on a bus tour with the infected man - given additional tests. Both proved negative.

"If they'd had symptoms we would have been more worried," Sawyer said. Clyde's past work, including a stint doing epidemiological work for the U.S. state of Georgia, may also have contributed to their equanimity.

Clyde and Renee have been spending their time reading. The family has also watched movies, including "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Aquaman."

Sawyer, a fitness fanatic who went to the ship's gym or pool every other day and came second in a shipboard "Sexiest Legs" contest, now does crunches and pullups in the room, which at six meters by nine doesn't allow for a lot more.

Masked and gloved ship staff brought a breakfast of pastries, granola with yogurt, fruit and boiled eggs around 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, along with a menu from which they could choose later meals. Wednesday they had mostly sandwiches.

The death toll from the virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, jumped by 73 to 563 in China, with more than 28,000 confirmed infections there.

Sawyer's family said they appreciated the efforts health officials were making to contain the virus and that the ship's crew was taking good care of them, although Renee spoke wistfully of the "Hungarian Rhapsody Trio" that had played live several times a day.

Sawyer said cruise officials were negotiating to see if small groups could be taken on deck for air.

"It's not really at the point where we're getting stir-crazy," Sawyer said. "If they keep us in the rooms for four to five days, it might be a little different."