British passengers stuck on board a coronavirus-hit cruise ship off the coast of California are looking on the bright side as they brace for potential weeks of isolation.
So far, 21 people on the Grand Princess have tested positive for Covid-19 – just under half of all those who have been tested.
Nineteen of those diagnosed are crew members.
The ship, which has more than 3,500 people on board including 140 Britons, is being directed to a non-commercial port, US vice-president Mike Pence said on Friday.
Jackie Bissell, from Dartford in Kent, had booked the cruise with a friend as part of her 70th birthday celebrations.
She told Radio 4’s Today Programme on Saturday that passengers had only been told on Thursday that there might be something wrong.
She said: “We had a note popped through the door saying that this virus might be on the ship – they removed the salt, the pepper.
“We could touch absolutely nothing, if you wanted sugar in your tea or coffee they would come along and do it for you rather than you touching any of these items.
“You can’t go out, you can just go out in the hall if someone taps the door. They put the food outside, drop your menus inside and that’s about it.”
But she said life on board “has not been too bad” so far.
“It was a bit mish mash yesterday but today they’ve got things a lot more organised,” she said.
“We’re very comfortable and everything you need will be brought to you – eventually – and we are absolutely fine and the ship is fine.”
Ms Bissell said those on board have been given very little information on what happens next.
“The only information we’ve got is off the news and we can’t take that as gospel,” she said.
“We are waiting for the ship’s captain – but I think he’s as much in the dark as we are and he’s said he’s only giving us information as and when he gets it.”
Fellow passengers Neil and Victoria Hanlon, from Bridgwater in Somerset, said they had noticed some people looking very ill as long as a week ago.
Speaking to ITV news, Mr Hanlon said: “We have passed a few people on the ship about a week ago who did look seriously ill, they had masks and stuff on.
“We were in the lift with them which probably wasn’t a good thing.
“They were going down to where the medical centre was. We asked them if they were okay – their breathing was horrendous.”
He said one man had told them he had bronchitis, but added “whether that was the truth, I don’t know”.
He added: “We were told last night they are going to start testing some more people today but who they are, I don’t know.”
The couple said they have set up a WhatsApp group with some other passengers.
Mrs Hanlon said: “There’s a really good entertainment package on the TV in the rooms so we’ve got a lot of films, there’s really good wifi, we’ve got a lot of magazine and books.”
Her husband joked: “If we’re here much longer, we’ll have to use our imaginations.”
Lisa Egan, whose 90-year-old father on board, is calling for the ship to be evacuated.
She told the Telegraph: “Keeping people on board is going to be a death sentence for many.”
The Grand Princess is owned by Princess Cruises, and a spokesman said on Friday evening: “We are awaiting official specific plans for future positioning of the ship from relevant authorities.
“Princess Cruises will continue to closely follow the guidance of the CDC and other federal and state government authorities.”
US President Donald Trump appeared to be in favour of leaving the Grand Princess’s passengers where they are – apparently to avoid increasing the nation’s infection total.
Speaking at the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) campus in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday evening, he said: “I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”
“Our ships are small floating cities. Just as life happens in cities for good and for bad–the same happens onboard our ships.” Our President, Jan Swartz shares how COVID-19 has affected guests on our ships and fellow team members, but also people around the world.#princesscruises pic.twitter.com/jNr5GaA4iw
— Princess Cruises (@PrincessCruises) March 6, 2020
Princess Cruises also owns the Diamond Princess ship which was quarantined off the coast of Japan for several weeks earlier this year.
The ship became a breeding ground for the virus as staff continued to carry out their cooking, serving and cleaning duties while the ship was immobile.
Around 700 people caught coronavirus while in quarantine, more than a quarter of the 2,600 people on board.
The Japanese authorities later admitted the approach was flawed.
Dr Norio Ohmagari, director of the Disease Control and Prevention Centre at the Japanese government-funded National Centre for Global Health and Medicine, said the quarantine “may not have been perfect”.
In an interview with CNN, he said: “We suspected some of the cruise staff may already have been infected, but they had to operate the cruise ship itself, they had to see the passengers, they had to deliver the meals.
“So that may have caused some close contact with the cruise ship workers and also the passengers.”