A White Rock man who made international headlines with his husband last month, after the cruise ship they were on was quarantined off the coast of Japan due to a coronavirus outbreak, remains frustrated at how the Canadian government handled the situation.
The length of time it took for Canadian passengers to be repatriated, and the treatment received during a second two-week quarantine imposed upon their return to the country are central issues, Nigel Finch-Cole told Peace Arch News Tuesday.
“It took two weeks for them to get a flight organized to get us off that ship,” Finch-Cole said. “We felt that was far too long.
“It was just the stress of not knowing, were we going to get off the ship before we became infected.”
Finch-Cole and his husband Patrick Cole – married 38 years – were among nearly 4,000 people onboard the ill-fated Diamond Princess, which was the first cruise ship to be quarantined after the coronoavirus (COVID-19) was identified in China in December.
Ultimately – and despite measures including isolating passengers in their staterooms – more than 700 people on the ship fell ill.
Fortunately, the couple were not among the afflicted, but Finch-Cole said Tuesday the fear of a positive test was ever-present.
“It was a sinking feeling to think that suddenly you’re going to be trapped in a small room for 14 days,” the retired Air Canada customer-service rep told PAN, of his reaction to the ship captain’s Feb. 4 order for everyone to return to their staterooms and stay put till further news.
“He came on the P.A. and said that the Japanese authorities were imposing a quarantine and we were not to leave our staterooms.
“With the loss of control that we felt – our destiny is now in the hands of a foreign government. Then, the worry set in after that, would we catch it or not?”
The couple arrived back home in White Rock on March 6 – a return Finch-Cole said felt “like winning the lottery – to have your freedom back.”
But he has questions, including why were those onboard the Diamond Princess essentially on lock-down for a month – first on the ship and then in Cornwall, Ont. where they were greeted with “barren” dormitory-style accommodation and extensive security – while individuals who are being diagnosed in Canada “are simply called to self-quarantine.”
“All hell broke loose when we found that out,” Finch-Cole said of how he and fellow Canadians took news of the self-quarantine orders, which the 147 learned about during the Cornwall quarantine.
“We understand the reason for the quarantine and we weren’t objecting to that. My issue was, why was there an inconsistency between us as a group and individuals coming into the country on a daily basis. Why weren’t they quarantined? These were positive people simply being told to go home.
“We tested negative, we remained negative the whole time, and yet we were forced into a quarantine because we were travelling as a group. There was an inconsistency in the way the Quarantine Act was applied.”
Despite the mental toll of the experience, Finch-Cole said there were positives that helped take the edge off the frustration, as well as wisdom gained.
The positives included the treatment received from Princess Cruises, which was “more than generous, more than kind and great with follow-up,” and the Red Cross, which administered the Cornwall quarantine. As well, care packages that arrived at the couple’s stateroom door from friends were acts of “supreme kindness,” Finch-Cole said.
He laughed when he shared one of those pieces of wisdom: when planning a cruise, “always book a balcony.”
Finch-Cole said he and Patrick are not dissuaded from taking future cruises, and are already in the process of planning one for next year.
And they’re also not concerned about getting together with friends, as will be the case Wednesday evening (March 11), when a welcome-home event is planned at a Marine Drive restaurant.
“You cannot live your life during this crisis thinking that way,” he said. “You just have to get on with it. There’s no reason to be hesitant to meet friends.”
The informal affair is set for 6-9 p.m. at Primo’s Mexican Grill, 15069 Marine Dr. Hosted by the White Rock Pride Society, the drop-in event is “to show them that the community was following their experience and supporting them,” society president Ernie Klassen told PAN.
Klassen said despite provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advising people to consider alternatives to “those types of environments right now,” he’s not heard any concerns around the plans for the gathering, and he’s expecting a full house.
He said he “can’t imagine” what the couple have been through, and wonders if they realize just how far their story travelled.
Anyone who would like to extend them a warm welcome, is welcome, Klassen said.
“Let’s show them that they are part of a community that cares,” he said. “Even just pop in and poke your head in the door and say, ‘Hi and welcome home.’”