Read: You’re likely to get the coronavirus
In mid-December, a worrywart friend, who knew that our itinerary included a stop in Hong Kong, started sending me stories about a SARS-like coronavirus disease. “Might you postpone?” he asked.
“Not going to China, let alone Wuhan,” I replied.
“Hong Kong is China,” he reminded me.
“Only going to be there one day!”
I watched as the numbers in Wuhan began to rise and as the Chinese government imposed draconian measures to keep residents within the city’s borders—but without a frisson of concern, I finished packing city gear for metros, walking, rain, and moderate winter temperatures, plus layers for cold and snow for our winter excursion after the cruise. I added dressy pantsuits for three formal nights on the ship and showy but inexpensive necklaces to match. The stops in Vietnam and Okinawa called for a few summery outfits. I had stuffed everything into one large suitcase, along with two folding bags for the inevitable treasures we would find.
We took our long-anticipated first-class flight, wore the airline’s designer PJs, slept in the cushy bed, and dined on foie gras, abalone, and other delicacies, accompanied by glasses of champagne. Once we arrived, we were wowed by the Prince Gallery hotel’s soaring views of Tokyo, cutting-edge electronics, and plumbing wizardry, and we were impressed by how one of the most populous cities in the world manages to be so clean and easy to navigate. We enjoyed learning to make washi paper from slurry and visiting a whole building dedicated to origami.
Then we traveled to Yokohama, boarded the Diamond Princess, and looked forward to spending the lunar new year in Hong Kong and visiting Vietnam, Taiwan, and then several other Japanese ports.
By the time we arrived in Hong Kong, on January 25, the combined concerns over the political protesters and the virus had caused the city to cancel all the new-year festivities. Still, we went into town for a dim sum lunch, tram ride to Victoria Peak, market shopping spree, and Peking-duck feast. It was the vacation of a lifetime.
On the last night of the cruise, the captain’s voice came over the speaker in our room, announcing that a passenger who had not returned to the ship in Hong Kong had tested positive for the novel coronavirus—so novel it had not yet been named—and that Japanese authorities would not let us off the ship until everyone on board filled out a questionnaire, ominously delivered by the quarantine division, and had our temperatures checked. We slept fitfully, awaiting the knock on the door.
That was three weeks ago. It soon became clear that we would be confined to our rooms for at least 14 days. Unlike some others staying in windowless rooms, we had a small suite with a balcony. Meals for the 2,666 people on board were delivered three times a day. There was no butter, no salt, as this post-cruise fare was meant to satisfy only hunger, not the palate. Our decadent vacation was very much over. Out came a mini-salt shaker that I keep with my toothpaste in case I need a saltwater gargle for a sore throat. I dug into my stockpile of Earl Grey and the mountain oolong I had purchased in Taipei. After talking with several doctor friends, we decided to take Tamiflu prophylactically. I always pack it during flu season. I opened my cold-prevention packet of high doses of vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea to boost our immune systems. A friend needed something for a feminine itch, and was surprised I had both the cream and suppository versions of the medication she needed, to her great relief.