|Constant on board cleaning - first line of defence...|
It is easy to see how some commentators who have never set foot on a cruise ship, let alone cruised on one, can easily beat up an Ebola story, and that is precisely what has happened to the Carnival Cruise Ship Carnival Magic. What was supposed to be a week long cruise around the Caribbean turned into a surreal nightmare fanned by a baying American media storm.
Four days after the Carnival Magic set sail from Galveston, Texas rumours began circulating that all was not well on board.
| ...and if that's not enough, the deep clean |
isolation medical team moves in..
The couple however were well, and had come forward, following the death of the Ebola victim. The reports of the death identified her Hospital, her workplace, and captured on the ships TV system which streamed some of the TV News channels.
At no time did Carnival try to censor or shield passengers from the hourly news feeds. However media speculation, and intrusive TV reports literally fanned the rumour mill throughout the ship, which was due to arrive back in Galveston on Sunday.
Media pick ups such as the comments from Passenger Jon Malone claimed there was "utter panic" on board, adding: "People are scared. I've seen people crying. You're using the same buffet line as someone else, the same waiters, the folks that clean the state rooms.
"If someone was cleaning their state room and cleaned yours right after, the exposure that you have there to elevators...it's very tight quarters and a lot of interaction.
"It's really difficult to control any type of virus that's on a cruise ship. It's like a floating petri dish. It spreads very rapidly. They're cleaning elevators. I've seen people with pink liquid cleaning the bar area and the handrails."
His brother Jeremy Malone said: "You see a ton of people that are crying, and then there are folks that are having a drink."
Outside his room on the 11th floor Jeremy Malone saw up to 40 workers with cleaning fluids and wearing masks.
He said: "There was a lot of folks who clean the state rooms with buckets and chemicals and people in masks were running around the ship."
But had the Malones just stopped to think for a moment, the ship was putting into operation precisely what should be happening on shore. A well thought out and often used deep cleaning and quarantine system, normally reserved for Norovirus outbreaks but easily beefed up to tackle any form of virus attack. In effect the safest place for anyone was probably on board rather than experience the basic health protocols in the likes of Belize.
As the Ebola scare spread many passengers tried to call home that all they could get on mobile devices was a busy signal, possibly as they were still on the high seas well away from the nearest land based relay station, and the ships own satellite delivered internet service crashed. To be fair the ships internet service on several different lines I have been on is akin to old style dial up, and frequently breaks up, with extended buffering sequences.
One passenger, who got through to CNN by telephone. He said: "Obviously our concern is where is this person is on the ship and what kind of set up do they have to care for them? I can't imagine it's a completely quarantined area. They have not told us at all where the person is.
"My wife has medication for a kidney transplant, she's susceptible to getting something a little easier than the rest of us, and we don't know where this person has been on the ship."
The passenger said he first realised something was wrong when he looked on a map of the ship's course on his television.
He said: "We were supposed to put into a port and I noticed that we were pulling away from the port. The captain finally came on and said we couldn't get permission to port.
"That's when everything hit the fan here and we realised we were quarantined.
"There were all kind of rumours. They never really said Ebola, they said 'symptoms,' they kept it somewhat vague but everyone knew what they were talking about."
The lab supervisor boarded the Carnival Magic, which carries 3,690 passengers and up to 1,367 crew, in Galveston, on Oct 12. Importantly she had not been placed under any travel restrictions by the hospital, or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both have been roundly criticised for not telling health workers who had contact with Mr Duncan to stay home.
The woman on the ship was only required to self-monitor her temperature daily to see if she had developed a fever.
After seeing news reports about two nurses who worked at the hospital - Nina Pham, 26, and Amber Vinson, 29 - being diagnosed with Ebola she decided to report herself to the captain, and self-quarantine by staying inside her cabin.
The ship then attempted to drop her off in a port in Belize so she could be flown back to Texas, but the Belize govenment refused.
Dean Barrow, the country's prime minister, refused a personal appeal from US Secretary of State John Kerry to send a helicopter to pick her up from the Carnival Magic and take her to a plane waiting at an airport in Belize.
Mr Barrow said: "It is clear, even in the US with all their capacity, with all their expertise, there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to how this thing gets transmitted. Their response, their approach, their treatment of the issue, seems to be a work in progress."
In a statement his government said: "The passenger never set foot in Belize. When even the smallest doubt remains, we will ensure the health and safety of the Belizean people."
Asked about Belize's refusal to accept the passenger, a US State Department spokeswoman said: "We think it could probably have been handled differently."
The Carnival Magic then sailed on to Mexico where it had been scheduled to dock int he port of Cozumel. it was hoped the woman could be airlifted from there, but again it was not allowed into port.
"I'm on the Carnival ship with the Ebola scare. Mexican authorities not allowing us into Cozumel. Heading back to Galveston," Eric Lupher, a passenger who works as a reporter for ABC7 in Denver, Colorado, said in a post on Twitter.
Mr Lupher described how fear began spreading among the passengers on Thursday night.
He said: "We were about five miles off the shore of Belize just sitting in the boat in the ocean, not knowing what was going on. The boat wasn't moving. It was like that for several hours. Then we started moving in the middle of the night.
"More than 12 hours later we were told this person was on the ship. The captain came on the loudspeaker and told us what was going on. He never said the word Ebola, but everyone knew. On the elevators, people were talking about it. And a lot of people were upset about it."
Up to that point, he said, "the party just kind of kept going. The pools were open, the slides were open, people were still eating at the buffet, touching areas that everybody touches. There's a lot of concern over communication."
Carnival Cruise Lines distributed a letter to passengers telling them: "At this time the guest remains in isolation on board the ship and is not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew.
"It is important to reiterate that the individual has no symptoms and has been isolated in an extreme abundance of caution."
This is the type of letter routinely issued for any outbreak or suspected outbreak. As it happens the latest information is that the two passengers have been given the all clear and have subsequently disembaked the ship. Panic over.
The maximum incubation period for Ebola is 21 days and it had been very nearly that long since the woman handled Mr Duncan's samples, showing no symptoms whatsoever. But being the health professional that she was she made the voluntary declaration, which kick started the ships own highly efficient screening processes.
Carnival has offered compensation of $200 per passenger to those on board, and a 50 per cent discount on future cruises, as an apology for missing the single Mexican stop. Which is more than is offered, if a cruise ship misses a port, to say, poor weather in europe.
A Carnival spokesman added: "We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests."
The US State Department said it was working with the cruise line to "safely bring them back to the United States out of an abundance of caution."
More than 4,500 people have died so far in the world's largest ever outbreak of Ebola in West Africa The World Health Organisation has declared the infection rate could reach 10,000 cases a week by early December, it only needsa a multiple of 10 to 100 contacts in each case to estimate what lies ahead. Clearly health officials world wide have to buck their ideas up...
JULIAN BRAY [ 01733 345581 ], Journalist, Broadcaster, Aviation Security &Operations, Travel / Cruise Industry Expert, Writer and Coach EQUITY, NUJ, Broadcast ISDN changed number 01733 345020) SKYPE: JULIAN.BRAY.UK e&oe A later updated version is always on the Website