On on the last evening of a two-week cruise with stops in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan, the more than 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the Diamond Princess ship received a message from their captain .
“Please note that we have been informed that a Hong Kong resident who traveled for five days on Diamond Princess from Yokohama to Hong Kong has tested positive for coronavirus,” he said. “As you can see ladies and gentlemen, the situation is under control and therefore there is no cause for concern.”
Yet, as history will quickly show, this was far from the case. By the time guests and workers were cleared off the boat after weeks of quarantine, more than 700 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 passengers had died.
New HBO Documentary The last cruise, which premiered on March 30 and directed by Hannah Olson, revisits what has been described as a “completely chaotic” situation, using footage of cruise passengers and crew members who captured how the virus tore through the ship in real time.
Passengers detail how their long-awaited, joyous vacation quickly became tinged with anxiety and fear of the potentially deadly virus. They filmed uneventful days locked in their cubicles, doing nasal swab tests, and their partners taken to hospital by medics in hazmat suits when their COVID tests came back positive.
Meanwhile, crew members take viewers below deck, where workers who were already working under intense conditions for low pay had to bury their collective panic when the boat went into quarantine, doing their best to that things are running smoothly and the thousands of people on board fed and healthy.
Olson, who also directed the HBO documentary Baby god of fertility abuser Dr Quincy Fortier told the Daily Beast she had hundreds of hours of passenger and crew footage to work with when she started shooting the movie in March latest.
Drawn to this first story of a pandemic before the world really knew what this deadly virus would bring, Olson said she felt something big was about to happen. “No one knew how much our lives would change forever, but I think I knew enough in those early days to keep the origin story interesting,” she said. “It was the first major outbreak of COVID-19 outside of China, so it was kind of the first time we knew it might be closing in or extending beyond Wuhan.”
“When I first started looking into the story, I realized there was this tremendous amount of footage from every deck, from all levels of the social hierarchy,” Olson added. “I think it has become, for me, as much a story about what happens in a crisis and how we tell it.
When the Diamond Princess embarked on its Southeast Asia tour on January 20, only four cases of COVID were reported outside of China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Passengers weren’t paying attention to the virus, and why would they? Princess Cruises assured customers that they would be safe, and the US government didn’t seem to be taking the issue too seriously. Two days after the WHO report, former President Donald Trump said the United States had the virus “totally under control.”
“It’s going to be very good,” he assured the American public.
So, cruise passengers took advantage of the bustling port towns, filming their vacations as they explored the markets and kayaked in idyllic waters. Some even mocked local officials who started taking their temperatures and questioning them as they got off the ship. “It got in the way of my trip,” one joked.
While docked in Hong Kong on Chinese New Year’s Day, an elderly couple said they were warned by family members not to get off the boat due to the increase in COVID cases. . “We were like, ‘What?’ We really hadn’t heard anything about it, ”the guest said. “At that time, we thought, [we’re] have that asian experience by wearing a mask! You would never do that in the United States.
Onboard footage shows the boat was operating as usual, even when the captain announced on February 3, 2002 that someone had tested positive and was being treated, the common areas still bustling, the dining rooms crowded, and the performers interacting with guests. Even after Japanese health officials boarded the ship to administer COVID tests to passengers, people were allowed out of their rooms and continued as if everything was normal.
But reality has finally set in and the mood has changed. Guests were told they would be quarantined in their rooms and began filming their reactions to the ever-growing number of infected passengers on board. In clips apparently sent to loved ones, they give virus updates and tongue-in-cheek jokes about the film groundhog day be available to watch on TV.
Viewers experience panic with the guests, which Olson says was done on purpose. “I wanted it to be an experiential film where the viewer is brought back to the feelings we all had at the start of the pandemic: not knowing what’s going on, denial, confusion, terror.”
“I wanted it to be an experiential film where the viewer is brought back to the feelings we all had at the start of the pandemic: not knowing what is going on, denial, confusion, terror.“
“It was really important for me not to include any experts in the film,” she continued. “I wanted to limit the information available to the viewer to what was known at the time by those on the boat. The media coverage at the time was fascinating because it’s such a vacuum of information and I think that’s part of what was so scary.
There is a noticeable difference between the attitudes of crew members and passengers, who have traditionally treated their quarantine as an extended vacation. They complained about the dessert and that the room service was not quite up to par. “I could actually get anxious with the crew, for me they weren’t as friendly as them… it was more professional,” said one traveler. His wife agreed and replied, “They weren’t getting tips anymore.”
But the crew still worked long, grueling shifts and delivered three meals a day to the passengers, knowing they were in direct danger. “We had the impression that only the rich would be taken care of,” said a pastry chef. “It’s not just passengers who are threatened by this virus, so why are we still working?”
It was another draw for Olson, explaining that she was curious about how the virus played out in a social aspect. “Cruise ships have such an integrated caste system with passengers and crew, and even among the crew there is a hierarchy,” she said. “It was a way for me to see how this crisis affected people of different social positions in different classes.”
“I read that the ship was in quarantine and at the same time the crew were still working, still eating in shared mess rooms, sleeping in tight quarters below the waterline and delivering 3,000 meals a day. I’m like, ‘Wait, aren’t they in quarantine?’ So who can be considered a human being? For me, it has become a story of who can take shelter, who needs to be quarantined, and who needs to be a human shield, ”Olson explained.
She pointed out that despite being artists, waiters, pastry cooks and dishwashers, the crew became “de facto nurses” to look after the guests, even though they didn’t get involved. never registered for this position.
“It was wild for me which was almost automatic… it’s assumed,” Olson said. “This experience mirrored what we saw later with so many essential workers. It is assumed that the employees of the grocery stores will continue to work, because why? Because they need the money. It’s the same on the boat – there was no recourse for anyone because everyone depends on these jobs. It is above all the taking over of the service by the people who depend on the service jobs. “
One of the most shocking parts of the Diamond Princess story was that it was essentially a case study of how COVID works and spreads, but the US government has failed to act on it. . It was thanks to Diamond Princess that scientists and medical experts learned that the virus was suspended in the air and that asymptomatic people could still pass the virus on to others.
“The government told me to wash my hands, don’t worry about buying masks, [and to] stay home if you feel bad [and] I watched the CDC board the Diamond Princess in their hazmat suit, ”she said. “I think the boat is kind of a microcosm because they make the same mistakes we did, maybe six weeks ago. If we had only listened. The information was there, it just wasn’t acted upon.