Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: ‘At 3.30am there was a knock at our door’

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The couple are now in quarantine at Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral after they were eventually flown home by the government.

Two Britons who were on lockdown on a ship after hundreds of people got coronavirus – and are now in isolation in the UK – reveal how their dream holiday ended up with them being quarantined twice.

Alan Sandford, 64, and his wife Vanessa, 62, from Nottinghamshire, told Sky News their story:

I liked the look of the Princess Diamond cruise because its route would take me to lots of places I hadn’t been before and on board we were really enjoying ourselves.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

The first I heard of the coronavirus was when we went to Hong Kong towards the end of the cruise.

The Chinese New Year celebrations had all been cancelled because of “this virus from China” that was sweeping the country. It didn’t affect us so we weren’t worried.

It was only when we got to Okinawa, in southern Japan, that everything seemed more serious. It took us four or five hours to get off the ship, go through immigration and have a temperature check.

A couple of days later we docked near Tokyo earlier than planned and after that the captain announced that a passenger on the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

This was the first time I began to get a little concerned, and at 3.30am there was a knock at our door.

I drowsily went to the door, not thinking about what I was wearing, which was very little. I opened it to see two Japanese medics in protective clothing – masks, gloves, goggles and carrying clipboards.

Before I knew what was happening one of them stuck what I hoped was a thermometer in my ear as the the other one noted the result.

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The other medic asked us questions but I didn’t follow what he was saying, so I can only describe what followed as a game of semi-naked charades.

The first question was easy: “Have you got a cough?” he mimed. We both said no.

“Sore throat?” – he mimed by rubbing his neck. We both said no.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

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“Have you taken anything to lower your temperature?” To this day I have no idea how my wife understood his movements to guess that one. She said no for both of us.

With that, they made some notes, stood up – so did I – and we both gave a little bow, they said sorry and were gone.

The next morning it was clear we would not be going home but it was still quite lighthearted, chatting with our friends about what might happen next.

Later the captain told everyone to go back to their cabins and that 10 people had tested positive for the virus and would be taken to hospitals in Japan.

And then he gave us the knockout punch: we would be in quarantine for 14 days.

When breakfast was next delivered to the door it was by some, as always, very cheerful crew – the only difference was they had masks on.

I could see my wife looking at me and I was imagining she was thinking “oh no, 14 days alone with Alan”.

We were on the side of the ship facing the sun and we had a great view of Yokohama, a balcony to sit on and regular meals.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

Helicopters started to fly over me and alongside the ship, time and again.

The news was out. I counted five helicopters at once. Dead cool, I thought. Police boats, coastguard boats and media boats were all hanging around. I am ashamed to say I was enjoying the first day of quarantine.

But after a couple of days I found it a bit lonely and I felt so sorry for those in inside cabins with no windows and no fresh air.

When the meals came I saw the door opposite open and an Asian couple inside. They don’t speak English and I don’t speak their language but we still waved.

After a couple of days we are all saying hello like we are long-lost friends.

After a while I think we must try to exercise, and Vanessa gets into trying tai chi from videos on the room’s TV.

I try to join in, but being 6ft 4in the room isn’t quite big enough. When I stretch up, my hands hit the ceiling and when I reach out I hit my arms on the cupboards.

Once, while on the balcony, I hear cheering; I look to the side and some passengers 75 metres further along on their balcony start waving, trying to get a Mexican wave going.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

I join in and after five minutes there must be 100 people on balconies on six different decks doing a Mexican wave down one side and back again. We named it the Diamond Princess wave.

So what did I do all day? When not on the balcony my lifesaver was the room phone, WhatsApp and email.

Eventually, journalists get in touch. A really friendly and understanding Sky News correspondent called Siobhan Robbins chats with me and persuades us to do a Skype chat, which leads to me doing some daft videos.

I tell Siobhan that Kay Burley is my favourite, and next thing I know I am being interviewed live by Kay, who also sends me a good luck message. How surreal is all this?

Halfway through, the captain turned the ship around so we no longer had the great view and would be in shade all day.

It was fair of course because we had the sunny side for seven days, but I am still ashamed to say I was grumpy about it.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

I was grumpy about a lot of things: the news channels on the TV kept freezing and the internet kept crashing or running slow.

More positive cases were announced and I had the first serious thoughts about if we would be better off the ship. Even the captain sounded less positive in his announcements.

The view now was of rows of ambulances taking people to hospital, of medics and civil defence staff all in full protective clothing constantly entering and leaving the ship.

With the quarantine almost over we were looking forward to going home.

Then we received an email from the Foreign Office telling us there would be a free evacuation flight and that we would have to spend another 14 days quarantine in the UK.


                              Briton reveals life on quarantined ship: 'At 3.30am there was a knock at our door'

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After 17 days in quarantine on board, we arrived at the airport around 1.30am.

We waited and waited and waited and waited. We started to get anxious, it was now 3am and we were not permitted to go to the toilet. It turned out there was an issue with the baggage check.

We complained, but were told we would just have to put up with it.

The security checks took almost seven hours without being permitted to use the toilet. We finally boarded the plane and departed at around 8.30am.

I was very impressed with my bladder control, but it really wasn’t funny and a most unpleasant experience.

After a journey of 22 hours, we landed at Boscombe airfield and boarded the coach to be greeted by two jovial, wisecracking coach drivers.

The first four rows were taped off because the drivers explained that we had to always be more than two metres from them to prevent infection from us.

We set off in convoy with a police car in front, an ambulance and police car behind and a string of police motorcycle outriders escorting us – all with blue lights flashing. This was a teenage boy’s dream!

When we got off the coaches after six hours, a medical person took charge and made us change our masks, wash our hands and we entered the facility.

We had to stay two metres from the desk as we gave our names to check in.

We were then accompanied to our accommodation by two doctors in protective clothing, gloves, masks and visors. They were really pleasant and helpful and we immediately felt comfortable.

We were tired – 29 hours since we had left the ship in Japan! We went to bed and slept very, very well.

The next morning we explored our accommodation and we started to let all our friends know we had arrived safely, are fit and well and being very well looked after.

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