‘Hand to hand to hand’: How Coronavirus Spread Aboard the Diamond Princess

This picture taken on February 24, 2020 shows crew members aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port. - Hundreds of crew members aboard a coronavirus-riddled cruise ship in Japan began disembarking on February 27, the government said. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

At one point Carnival Cruise Line’s Diamond Princess would have a greater number of Coronavirus cases than anywhere in the world outside China. For GQ, Doug Bock Clark reports on how the delayed, woefully inadequate response from Carnival’s management, the Japanese government, as well as the ship’s captain and crew helped the virus to spread.

And Japanese officials eventually acknowledged the quarantine was flawed.

They had no idea about the danger. Not as they crowded around the famous champagne waterfall. Hundreds of delighted cruise passengers watched as golden bubbly, poured atop a pyramid of 300 glasses, filled the stemware below. Then the drinks were passed out. Hand to hand to hand. Guests clinked coupes and posed for photos, making the evening feel momentous. It was their fourth night aboard the Diamond Princess—a floating city of a ship that had been churning south from Yokohama, Japan—and they were all still unaware of how much their journey would transform them, and even the world.

For a week more, the Diamond Princess cruised on. The Amigos took a memorable kayak excursion in Vietnam, among the karst monoliths of Ha Long Bay. They enjoyed street food in Taiwan. But while there, panicky headlines and more temperature guns made the virus impossible to ignore. Still, they considered themselves safe, unaware that an 80-year-old passenger—a man who had coughed through the first half of the cruise before disembarking in Hong Kong—had been admitted to a hospital, where it was discovered that he was infected with the coronavirus.

For government officials and corporate leaders, the question of whether it was fair—or even safe—to quarantine the passengers but not the crew was obscured by the priority to keep the ship operational. And so the poor took care of the rich, and the citizens of less powerful nations served those from more powerful nations, and the Diamond Princess remained a miniaturized version of the global order—because what other way could things go?

Before bidding goodbye to the ship, Arma had stood alone on the glass-walled bridge. The normally stoic captain was emotional. He had been with the boat since it was built and had guided it safely through every storm, until this one. He felt like he understood what he called her “beautiful soul.”

One last time, he switched on the P.A., in order to speak to the ship itself. It wasn’t her fault, he told her. He promised that they would see each other again, and he wished her a good night, his words echoing in the vacant galleries and cabins. They had done their best, he and his ship—and like all good captains, he was the last person to leave. As he strode off the gangway in his crisp uniform, he was the very image of debonair fortitude. Except his true expression was hidden behind a protective mask.

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