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'Is this really happening?': Victoria woman aboard quarantined COVID-19 cruise ship
VICTORIA -- A Victoria woman is speaking out about her experience aboard the quarantined Grand Princess cruise ship currently being held off the coast of California due to a coronavirus outbreak on board.
Melanie Sibbitt says that the experience has been "surreal" but that cruise staff and U.S. health officials aboard have been managing the process admirably.
Sibbitt, along with the roughly 3,500 other passengers aboard the Grand Princess, have been isolated in their cabins since Thursday.
The Victoria resident says that passengers were first told of the quarantine on Wednesday night and that on Thursday the U.S. Coast Guard was bringing medical officials and supplies to the vessel via helicopter.
"It was very surreal, very surreal," says Sibbitt. "It was almost like we were in a movie and people forgot to tell us we were extras. Like, 'Is this really happening? Are we really on the news?'"
Sibbitt says that she had seen news coverage of the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan last month and was amazed when she found herself in a similar situation.
Sibbit says that spirits remain high for many people and that staff aboard the cruise ship have been professional and accommodating. She says that passengers are receiving three meals a day and that room service is available 24/7 for coffee, soda, alcoholic drinks and other supplies, such as board games.
She adds that the cruise ship has provided free internet service, counselling and channels of communication for people aboard the ship.
"They have treated us so well," says Sibbitt. "They provided free internet as of last Thursday so that people could keep in touch with people at home [and] free ship-to-shore phone calls for people to stay in touch. Then, on Saturday, they provided counsellors if you were having trouble being isolated in your room for anxiety, which I think is so admirable."
Sibbitt makes special note of the captain of the vessel, who she says has been providing regular updates for the passengers. "Honest to god, there's not much more you can ask for," she says.
Sibbitt, a Fisherman's Wharf resident who is on a vacation alone, says she believes the quarantine was a prudent move. She says in this particular circumstance, isolation was likely beneficial for many of the passengers who are senior citizens and potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19.
While Sibbitt has been facing isolation for days, and is scheduled to face more weeks of quarantine when she returns to Canada, she says she hopes Canadians will not give in to unfounded fear.
"Me, personally, I would go on another cruise," she said. "And we also have some coming into our port [in Victoria] and they're a very big part of our community and economy.
"I don't think we need to put fear into people that it's a bad thing to go on a cruise, particularly now that they've gone through this process a couple of times and they know they have an incredible cleaning procedures in place."
Sibbitt, who has been hearing news of supply shortages on Vancouver Island, adds that the community should be careful not to fall into a panic.
"Don't allow fear to take over right now," she says. "I'm hearing reports that Walmart and Costco are running out of toilet paper and that people are going into panic mode and there's absolutely no reason to go into panic."
She says that people who are being affected by the virus are those with underlying health conditions, and that it is everyone's responsibility to protect vulnerable populations.
Passengers aboard the Grand Princess are scheduled to disembark in phases.
Sibbitt says that Californians and other U.S. residents are scheduled to leave first. She adds that Canadians are expected to disembark Monday afternoon, with a flight from Oakland, California to Trent, Ontario scheduled for 9 p.m.
The Victoria resident says that all Canadian passengers will be screened with a temperature test and questionnaire before disembarking, though she is not aware of the full range of testing that will be conducted before Canadians head back to the country.
Once back in Canada, Sibbitt and the other Canadian passengers will be spending two weeks in isolation at a military base in Trenton.
"Going to Trenton, Ontario at this time of year with flip flops is not my idea of a good time," says Sibbitt, who had packed for her cruise from Hawaii to San Fransisco. "I might be donning some new military fatigues soon."
Besides encouraging Canadians not to give in to fear, Sibbitt is asking everyone to work together to overcome the concerning coronavirus outbreak.
"My sister has a saying, 'Feeling is contagious – healing is contagious,'" she says. "So, you know, if we open our hearts and just recognize that we're all in this together we'll all be able to get through this together. We're a lot stronger together."