John Craig Lee, a 72-year-old teacher from Richmond Hill, Ontario, was traveling on the Diamond Princess when the cruise ship was quarantined at Yokohama, just south of Tokyo in early February, after a former passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Hong Kong.
During the 14-day quarantine, Lee also tested positive for the virus, and he was transported to hospital, along with 125 other passengers.
Here is her story, told at CBC Radio.
My friend Larry and I were very excited about this trip because we were going to a place I had never been to, and he was going to see his sister and two nieces in Hong Kong on the way.
I left Canada on January 17, a day earlier than planned, because I wanted to avoid the snowstorm. A few days later, I boarded the cruise ship at Yokohama and we set sail.
Our last port of call was Okinawa, an island in Japan. It took everyone about an hour and a half to get in and out of the ship. They took our temperatures, our fingerprints and our photos, which is apparently not uncommon.
That night we were told that there was someone on the ship who had tested positive. Then they announced that the Japanese Ministry of Health would take over and that the boat had been quarantined.
Over the days, we heard information on television – before hearing the captain – that the new passenger count was positive for the virus. The number was increasing all the time.
We were getting really worried about what was going on here.
When we returned to Yokohama, they started testing the 80s. Anyone who tested positive was removed from the ship and sent to a hospital in Japan.
Then they started making people over 70, and that’s where I fit in. Two days later, there was a knock on the cabin door.
A Japanese doctor was there and said, “John Lee?”
“You have tested positive. You will be removed from the ship and placed in a hospital.”
It was a horrible feeling.
When I landed, it was 6 o’clock in the evening and it was dark.
I was taken on a bus. There were curtains on the windows and all the curtains were closed. We had our masks.
Finally, at 7:30 am, the convoy left – and I say “convoy” because there were seven vehicles inside. There was a police car in the front with flashing lights and one in the rear. There were three buses and two trailers with toilets inside.
After an hour and a half, we stopped for a toilet break. We had to use the toilets of the trailers we had brought. We could not use public toilets.
The drive to the hospital was to take five hours, but it turned out to be a nine-hour bus ride.
Through it all, I was asymptomatic. I had nothing wrong with me.
In fact, at the hospital, they were taking your oxygen saturation point from your blood, and mine was always around 96, 97, 98, 99. Anything over 95 shows that there is no problem with the lungs or respiratory system.
But I still couldn’t leave the hospital until I produced two negative tests for COVID-19. Fortunately, I got my two negatives after 16 days – not the two weeks everyone is talking about, but 16 days.
More than anything, you have to stay positive.
I got my two negatives and got discharged from the hospital. It was just happy.
After 50 days of absence, I finally returned to Canada, to my family. It was just wonderful to walk through the door. It was so unreal – the whole trip was so unreal.
I couldn’t believe that, finally, I was at home.
My son played music, cheerful music to welcome me home. There was food and all the lights in the house were on and it was just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful experience.
What I understood from all of this is that, more than anything, you have to stay positive.
You lose control, so you have to trust the people who take care of your kindness. And the captain and Princess Cruises, the government, even the Ministry of Health in Japan, they all took care of our kindness.
We did not want to spread this disease. We entered quarantine knowing that the larger community would be safe because we were isolated from them.
So you have to look beyond who you are to see what the community’s greatest needs are. This is what it is at the moment. Stay at home. This is how it will be beaten.
If people do not follow these rules, it will last much longer and we will pay much later.
This Happened to Me: COVID-19 is a CBC Radio video series featuring stories from Canadians who have fought the coronavirus.