The Novel Coronavirus outbreak is now a hot global issue. Today, up to 129,775 cases are found around the world. The outbreak became worldwide little after the Chinese New Year. It was the vacation time where the Chinese living abroad returned to their hometown and a large group of Chinese people traveling abroad. Not only flights, cruise ships are also a fascinating option for group traveling. Within a contained space of the ship, it is likely for the virus to spread exponentially to the passengers like what is happening with Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The ship was bound to travel from Japan to the United States with over 3,700 people on board. When it docked in Japan, 10 passengers were tested positive with COVID-19. Then, 14-day quarantine was carried out to contain the spread. However, the quarantine ended up with a devastating failure as the number of infectees soared up to over 600 people and 10 people died of the virus.
On the thirteenth episode of LSHTM Viral podcast, Annelies Wilder-Smith, a researcher from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, briefly explained her latest research on the failure in the quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
“We calculated that if the evacuation of the ship had occurred much earlier on, we would have had probably only about 75 cases.”
Wilder-Smith stated that early evacuation should have been done right after the first group of infectees was discovered to prevent passengers who were in the incubating period from transmitting the virus to other passengers. Keeping the viral carriers within the ship put the lives of other passengers at risk.
Moreover, Wilder-Smith criticized the quarantine measure from Japanese officials that it was not sufficiently strict. Instead of having the passengers locking themselves in their room 24/7 to avoid human contact, the passengers were allowed one-hour break during the day to mingle with one another in the common area. They were even allowed to swim in the pool.
The lesson learned from this failure is that draconic measures are needed in Europe. The researcher gave an example of Chinese government, who has been running strict quarantine measures, and is now highly praised by WHO because of the mass reduction in the number of infectees. Wilder-Smith proposed that the same level of strictness have to be done in Europe, but European people need to change their perspective to accept social distancing.
“We still do not have the mindset here in Europe (about) how strict we have to be with the quarantine.”
Wilder-Smith compared the quarantine measure of Diamond Princess to Singapore’s government. She cited that the quarantine in Singapore, the country is she currently residing, is completely enforced by law and people will be legally penalized if they turn up in a public space during that period. She contended that the quarantine has to be utterly strict and people need to cooperate by avoiding human contact completely during the 14-day quarantine.
Doing so will inevitably affect the social and economic sector of a country but the researcher believed that it would be better for the country in the long run than having no containment effort. It needs political power like Singaporean and Chinese government to conduct draconic measures to stop the outbreak quickly. Also, as an individual, people who have travelled to high-risk countries should do social distancing at home and those who have developed a symptom like fever have to be tested immediately and isolate themselves completely from the community.
The government have to implement strict quarantine measures as soon as possible and it needs to be supported by the cooperation from every citizen. This is the best thing every country can do to defeat the Novel Coronavirus. This is an important takeaway from Annelies Wilder-Smith.