How the ‘failed’ quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship started with 10 coronavirus cases and ended with more than 630

diamond princess cruise ship coronavirusdiamond princess cruise ship coronavirus

Workers in protective gear assist a passenger in a face mask after she leaves the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 21, 2020.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship got their first piece of bad news on February 4: Ten people onboard had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

It was the beginning of a two-week ordeal of quarantine orders and disease response that has been widely criticized as a failure. On Friday, Japan’s Ministry of Health reported that 634 people from the ship had tested positive for the virus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an additional 18 cases from the ship, with an expectation that more will arise. 

Two people have died.

“The quarantine was not justified, and violated the individual rights of the passengers while allowing the virus to literally pick them off one-by-one,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, who works at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Business Insider in an email.

Adalja and other experts have criticized the decision to keep passengers and crew on the ship and said poor hygiene practices helped spread the virus.

“I’d like to sugarcoat it and try to be diplomatic about it, but it failed,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA Today. “People were getting infected on that ship. Something went awry.”

Here’s how it got so bad.

On February 1, a man who’d been on the Diamond Princess tested positive for the new coronavirus six days after leaving the ship. It docked in the port of Yokohama, Japan, three days later.

Princess Cruises Diamond Princess

The cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on February 7, 2020.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

The man, from Hong Kong, boarded the ship in Japan and stayed on board for five days, then disembarked in his hometown. 

When it docked in Yokohama, the ship had 3,711 crew members and guests.

According to The New York Times, it took Japanese officials more than 72 hours to lock down the ship after they were notified about the Hong Kong man’s case.

By the following morning, 10 people on the ship had tested positive for the virus. Japan’s Ministry of Health placed the entire boat under a 14-day quarantine.

diamond princess meds on board

Medical workers in protective suits talk together on the Diamond Princess, February 4, 2020.

@daxa_tw via AP

Passengers had already been on the ship for two weeks, since the quarantine came at the end of their scheduled cruise.

Japanese health officials continued testing passengers and transported those who tested positive to health facilities on land.

diamond princess ambulance

Officials in protective suits drive an ambulance near the Diamond Princess at the Yokohama Port in Tokyo on Friday, February 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

However, testing takes a day or more, since it involves collecting and submitting spit and mucus samples.

Spencer Fehrenbacher, an American grad student on the ship, told Business Insider that he experienced a “wall for information” about test results. He said on February 6 that he’d been waiting to get his own results for two days.

Other passengers reported long delays in getting tested at all, even after they reported symptoms.

From the beginning, those quarantined on the ship reported confusion and a lack of information.

diamond princess stay in your room

A passenger stands on the balcony of the Diamond Princess, anchored at the Yokohama Port near Tokyo on Friday, February 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

“There wasn’t much information,” passenger Masako Ishida told The New York Times on February 5. She said many passengers did not immediately understand that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Passengers tallied the ambulances lined up on the pier, The New York Times reported, in order to get a sense of how many infections been confirmed on the ship.

Fehrenbacher told Business Insider that he stood very close to a woman who was clearly sick when he got his medical screening.

diamond princess coronavirus

In this image from a video, Paul Molesky, left, gets a DNA swab test in his cabin room on the Diamond Princess, anchored at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

Cheryl and Paul Molesky/Associated Press

“You could hear that cough that’s deep down in your lungs. I empathized with her and felt so bad,” Fehrenbacher said. But he also recalled thinking to himself, “Okay, I don’t want to be in this room.” 

Ishida also reported concerns about the screenings: “They didn’t put the thermometer into our ears properly,” she said.

Diamond Princess quarantine

A man on the sixth deck of the Diamond Princess in Yokohama on February 4, 2020.

Twitter/@DAXA_TW/Getty Images

She said her husband’s first temperature measurement was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, well below normal body temperature. When she asked for a second measurement, it was 95 degrees. 

Ishida added that meals had been chaotic in the first days as well, with breakfast arriving at 2 p.m., quickly followed by lunch.

Passengers were confined to their rooms, the least expensive of which have no windows or balcony.

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View of an interior cabin aboard the Diamond Princess, February 6, 2020.

Sawyer Smith/via Reuters

At about 160 square feet, the rooms are the size of a shipping container and include either two twin beds, one queen bed, or, in some cases, bunk beds.

Honeymooners Alan and Wendy Steele told The Washington Post that they were going “stir crazy” on February 5.

diamond princess coronavirus quarantine passengers balcony

Passengers talk to each other on the balconies of their cabins on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where dozens of passengers tested positive for coronavirus, in Yokohama, Japan, February 11, 2020.

Issei Kato/Reuters

“We’re basically being treated like we’re prisoners and criminals at the moment; that’s how we feel,” Alan Steele said. He added that lunch on the first day had been stale bread with ham.

The next day, the ship’s operator, Princess Cruises, said that it had “activated new in-room entertainment offerings,” including games, trivia, arts and crafts, movies, eight new TV channels, and newspapers printed in 36 languages.

Passengers tweeted pictures of their meals and gave the room service mixed reviews.

—Shannon (@shannonvo) February 10, 2020

They also received bottle water and alcohol.

In addition to food and drinks, passengers were given face masks.

—Matthew Smith (@mjswhitebread) February 10, 2020

The masks are not great at preventing wearers from contracting the novel coronavirus, but they may help keep sick people’s germs from passing to others.

Those in the interior, windowless cabins were allowed to walk around the deck for a few minutes each day, wearing face masks.

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Passengers stroll on the deck of the Diamond Princess docked at the port of Yokohama on February 7, 2020.

Kyodo/via Reuters

Officials advised passengers to keep 6 feet apart.

Experts have criticized the decision to keep people on the ship.

diamond princess clothesline

Passengers stand on the balcony of the cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored at the Yokohama Port near Tokyo on Friday, February 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

“From a virologist’s perspective, a cruise ship with a large number of persons on board is more an incubator for viruses rather than a good place for quarantine,” Dr. Anne Gatignol, a microbiologist who studies viruses at McGill University, told the Montreal Gazette.

Keeping people in a confined space may have helped the virus spread.

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Passengers aboard the Diamond Princess on February 7, 2020.

Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

“They’ve basically trapped a bunch of people in a large container with [the] virus,” David Fisman, an epidemiology professor at University of Toronto, told Vox. “So [I’m] assuming ‘quarantine’ is generating active transmission.”

“Cruise ships are made of surfaces that are really sticky for viruses,” Kelly Hills, a bioethicist and Rogue Bioethics co-founder, told Business Insider.

diamond princess pool

A pool aboard the Diamond Princess.

Princess Cruises

“Lots of chrome and polished metal, things with grooves and nicks and scratches. It just makes a good home,” she said.

Infectious-diseases expert Kentaro Iwata said poor hygiene practices on the ship made him “so scared” of contracting the virus when he visited.

Kentaro Iwata Clinical Department Head Professor

Professor Kentaro Iwata, head of the department for infectious disease at Kobe University Hospital.

YouTube/Kentaro Iwata

“The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of the infection control,” Iwata said in a Youtube video. “There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection, and the red zone, which is potentially contaminated by the virus.”

As the case count continued to rise, some Indian crew members begged their government to rescue them.

diamond princess crew in masks

A crew member moves about the passageways of the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess on February 9, 2020, in Yokohama, Japan.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

The group shared a series of videos on Facebook. One of them, Binay Kumar Sarkar, told Business Insider that the situation on the ship was “out of control.” 

“There are lot of people who don’t have coronavirus so why are we all being confined here?” he said. “Please save at least those of us who are healthy.”

Crew members brought meals to passengers’ rooms, but the workers continued to eat together in the ship’s mess hall.

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Screenshot via YouTube

According to a New York Times report, infected crew members had eaten in the mess hall alongside their coworkers.

“We all are really scared and tense,” Sonali Thakkar, a worker on the cruise ship, told CNN.

diamond princess coronavirus

People look on from the Diamond Princes after the cruise ship arrived at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, February 7, 2020.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

The New York Times reported that 85 crew members tested positive for the virus.

“There are many places where we all are together, not separated from each other,” Thakkar told CNN. “Especially when we sit in the same mess hall and eat together, the place where it can spread very fast.”

As the case count rose past 200, passengers expressed fear.

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Family members of passengers onboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess wave and talk to them on the phone at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, February 11, 2020.

Reuters/Issei Kato

“I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I could die from this cruise,” Gay Courter, a 75-year-old novelist confined to a cabin on the ship with her husband, told The Wall Street Journal.

“The 14-day stipulation was meaningless in a context with new infections and new transmission episodes,” Adalja said.

diamond princess on board handwashing

Passengers wash their hands on the Diamond Princess, February 3, 2020.

@daxa_tw via AP

“The whole idea of the cruise ship quarantine was ill-conceived, and the resultant slew of infections it spawned was completely predictable,” he added. 

On February 12, the Japanese Ministry of Health announced that some passengers over 80 years old could finish their quarantine on land.

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Passengers stand on their balcony on February 10, 2020.

Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 The offer applied to passengers over 80 who had windowless cabin rooms or pre-existing medical conditions. They had to test negative for the virus before they could leave the ship.

On Valentine’s Day, passengers were gifted roses, chocolates, and (courtesy of the Japanese Health Ministry) new iPhones featuring a special app for medical support.

—Mae Fantillo (@maejuliene18) February 14, 2020

Crew members danced below deck and children drew pictures. The first group of healthy people was also allowed to leave the ship that day: 11 passengers older than 80.

After nearly a month on board, the remaining passengers finally began to leave the ship after the quarantine ended on February 19.

diamond princess coronavirus quarantine end passengers

Passengers disembark from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked at Yokohama Port, Japan, February 19, 2020.

Kyodo via Reuters

Officials in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and the US are requiring their residents to undergo an additional 14-day quarantine once they return.

By then, the number of people infected with coronavirus on the ship had skyrocketed to 621 — more than half of all cases outside China.

diamond princess coronavirus

Passengers wearing masks have their temperatures taken after leaving the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Japan, February 21, 2020.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

More than half of the infected people (322) showed no symptoms at all, which suggests that some coronavirus carriers in China could be going undetected.

Researchers still aren’t sure to what extent people can spread the virus when they have no symptoms, though a report published Friday documented a case in which a woman who was asymptomatic passed the coronavirus to five family members.

Fourteen US citizens who tested positive for the virus flew home in an isolation box on the back of the plane with other Americans from the ship.


The isolation box for those who test positive for the coronavirus is pictured on the plane bringing back US passengers who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan on February 17, 2020.

Cheryl and Paul Molesky via AP

Their tests came back positive after they had left the ship and were traveling to their plane home, the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement on Monday.

The agencies also said the passengers had been evaluated, and “all were deemed asymptomatic and fit to fly before being processed for evacuation.”

But on Thursday, the CDC said 22 of the other US evacuees who had been on the flight had either tested positive for the coronavirus or shown symptoms.

diamond princess getting off the ship

A worker in a protective suit checks the temperatures of passengers who were on the Diamond Princess cruise, on an evacuation aircraft en route to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, February 17, 2020.

Courtesy of Philip and Gay Courter/Handout via Reuters

Those people had sat in the two evacuation planes’ main cabins.

The CDC reported on Friday that a total of 18 people had tested positive, though that number could grow.

“We do think based on epidemiology and risk assessment that there may be additional cases,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s respiratory diseases center, said in a press conference on Friday.

“We don’t want to take [the tests done in Japan] at face value,” CDC spokesperson Scott Pauley told The San Francisco Chronicle.

CDC officials had argued against the decision to have sick and healthy people fly on the same plane.

coronavirus plane flight diamond princess containment unit

A US health official in a protective suit stands in front of a portable bio-containment unit and speaks to US passengers who have chosen to leave the Diamond Princess on a chartered evacuation aircraft to fly back to the United States, at Haneda airport in Japan, February 17, 2020.

Philip and Gay Courter/Reuters

The Washington Post reported that CDC officials lost the argument on the tarmac, then insisted they be left out of the news release announcing that 14 infected Americans had shared a plane with more than 300 others.

Two people who were on the cruise ship — an 87-year-old Japanese man and an 84-year-old Japanese woman — died on Tuesday, Japanese officials said.

Princess Cruises Diamond Princess

The cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on February 7, 2020.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

The passengers were taken to local hospitals on February 11 and 12, and both had underlying health issues, The New York Times reported, citing the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Princess Cruises is preparing the ship to set sail again on April 29.

diamond princess disinfection coronavirus

In this aerial image, workers spray down the Diamond Princess on February 13, 2020 in Yokohama, Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

“The expectation is that the ship would be fully sanitized and then taken into dry dock for a period of time,” Negin Kamali, public-relations director for Princess Cruises, told The Wall Street Journal.

Have you been personally impacted by the coronavirus epidemic? Is your city or community on the front lines of this disease? Have you or someone you know been tested or diagnosed? We want to hear your story. Please email


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