The outbreak of a new coronavirus has led to a lot of panic, confusion and fear as the deadly illness continues to infect and kill people around the world. While the flu has claimed over 10,000 lives this season in the U.S., the novel coronavirus already has a higher mortality rate, killing about 2% of people who have contracted it.
Without a known cure or vaccine in sight, governments and companies are proceeding with an abundance of caution whenever a new case is confirmed. While coming down with a terrible illness is never ideal, perhaps one of the worst places to encounter a deadly virus is within the close quarters of a cruise ship.
It's a situation Matthew Smith, a 57-year-old traveler from Sacramento, California, knows all too well.
On Jan. 20, Smith and his wife embarked on what he thought would be a two-week journey through several countries in Asia aboard the Diamond Princess. After visiting cities in Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan, the ship returned to its dock in Yokohama, Japan, on Feb. 3. But when it was discovered that a passenger who previously disembarked in Hong Kong had contracted the coronavirus, Smith, along with about 3,600 cruise guests were placed in quarantine on the ship.
Authorities now say passengers will be held on the ship until Feb. 19 after testing of all those aboard is completed. Instead of being able to enjoy the usual onsite amenities like gyms and spas, passengers aboard the Diamond Princess have been instructed to stay in their rooms for 24 hours a day.
So how does one try to make the best out of a bad situation while being stuck inside a cruise cabin? Start a food blog, of course!
Since Smith is confined to his small living quarters, he has been tweeting out photos of his meals, along with updates (many of which are sarcastic and witty) as a way of avoiding going too stir crazy.
While talking to CNBC, Smith likened his situation to being "trapped in your bathroom" and admitted "it can be a little bit depressing" when thinking about how long he's been there.
While many have saluted Smith for trying to make the best of a horrible circumstance, his posts are actually giving many a pretty informative window into what it's really like to held onboard a ship during a potentially life-threatening emergency. His first food-related post went up about two days after the quarantine began.
“Princess stepping up its game with food service on #DiamondPrincess,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “Don’t believe the honeymooners who would rather be in an American hospital. You might have to drag me off the ship when the quarantine ends.”
He's also been keeping his followers informed about the drink delivery situation.
In the past few days, Smith and his wife have enjoyed bread with stew and rice.
As well as hearty dishes of pasta, lentils and salad.
On Monday, he enjoyed pork adobo and beans.
He's also been able to savor some local snacks.
“Not bad at all, despite tasting a little like yogurt mixed with suntan lotion,” Smith wrote of an aloe vera-flavored yogurt.
All meals and other necessities are brought to passengers' doors by crew members. Despite enduring a rough end to an otherwise nice vacation, Smith has a lot of sympathy for those currently manning the ship.
“I give Princess and the captain of this vessel an A plus-plus on their response on this,” he said. “They faced a situation that I expect they had no plans for.”
Smith's posts not only touch on the food being served, but also offer a pretty sobering reality check about the day-to-day precautions he, and all other passengers aboard, must take to try to avoid getting sick.
For example, Princess supplied Smith and his wife with an assortment of face masks.
Japanese health officials also reportedly distributed Calonel, which is the Japanese version of acetaminophen.
On Monday, Princess Cruises confirmed that a total of 136 people on the ship now have the virus which, according to The New York Times, means the vessel now hosts the highest concentration of coronavirus cases outside of China. Twenty-three of those individuals are American citizens.
Princess Cruises said that passengers aboard the quarantined ship will receive a full refund and will also get credit for a future trip. Those currently stuck on the the vessel are receiving expanded television and entertainment options in their rooms, as well as free internet and phone service so they can stay in contact with the outside world during the quarantine.
Smith's posts might not help him get off the ship any faster but thanks to all that free internet, when he's finally able to disembark, he'll have a sizable fanbase among those who followed his harrowing journey.