An elderly couple from Northamptonshire has issued a plea “just to get some fresh air” after spending the past nine days stuck in a cramped cabin on a coronavirus-infected cruise ship.
Jenni and Tony Wills, aged 74 and 80, have run out of toothpaste, are running low on toilet paper and only received a change of bed sheets on Sunday after a 10-day wait.
“It has been pretty tough so far,” Mrs Wills said in a video message shared with Sky News from aboard the Zaandam cruise liner off the coast of Panama.
“To have only half an hour’s fresh air in 10 days, that is the thing that is killing us all, just to get some fresh air.”
She is among more than 1,200 passengers, including around 225 Britons, split between the Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam after four patients on the Zaandam died.
The cause of death has not been made public, but two others tested positive for COVID-19.
Both vessels have spent the past few days in limbo, with their final destination in doubt after a Florida mayor suggested he did not want the Zaandam “docking in my community”.
Over the weekend, hundreds of guests were transferred from the Zaandam to the Rotterdam after passing temperature checks.
Mr and Mrs Wills, who live in the village of Earls Barton, say they had been made to believe they would be among those moved.
The couple had already packed their bags, but Mrs Wills’ mention she had suffered a mild cold over a week ago appears to be the reason they have remained on the Zaandam, where at least 130 passengers and crew have flu-like symptoms.
In a positive step, Holland America Line – which operates the ships – announced on Sunday night the Panamanian government had finally granted permission to both ships to pass through the Panama Canal towards Florida, where they hope to dock.
Permission had initially been denied because of health concerns.
“We know this has been a bumpy road and a bumpy ride but you guys have been great in terms of being supportive of the crew, being supportive of one another,” said Orlando Ashford, president of the company, in a video posted on its Facebook page.
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He said the vessels “can make our way through the canal and work our way towards the next part of our journey, which is getting you to a place where you can make your way home”.
Mr Ashford did not specify where on the US coast the Zaandam and the Rotterdam would be allowed to come alongside.
The plan had been for the Zaandam to head to Fort Lauderdale but its mayor, Dean Trantalis, said over the weekend he found this to be “deeply troubling” and suggested the vessel should instead go to a Navy base elsewhere on the eastern seaboard.
“Until I am fully briefed by the Trump administration and am comfortable with their plans, I cannot support the Zaandam docking in my community,” he said.
The elder daughter of Mr and Mrs Wills has been closely tracking her parents’ plight.
They have been at sea since 7 March, where they caught the cruise ship from Argentina.
“My father has regular medication,” said Beccie Atkinson, 49, from Wandsworth, London. “They did manage to send him some generic tablets.”
However, she said her parents feel as though they are not receiving clear information from the captain of the ship.
Unable to leave the cabin, the couple’s meals are left outside their door, though the food is not particularly appetising, the daughter said.
There is also little to keep them occupied. The air conditioning has made their eyes dry, which makes reading difficult. They have run out of paper to do puzzles on and only one of their two pens work.
“They have dice and try to play Yahtzee,” Mrs Atkinson said.
Also, friends they had made in nearby cabins have transferred to the Rotterdam so they no longer have anyone to speak to – other than the odd phone call home.
“It is like they are on a desert island,” Mrs Atkinson said.
“They are very stoic, very stiff-upper-lip people generally and morale has been good. Of course they have not laughed it off, but they have been very accepting,” she said.
“I think suddenly the realisation that [they] have been a week without any fresh air and without any sign of getting fresh air… Repatriation and everything else, that seems the least of their worries.
“In terms of the here and the now, [they] want to be able to speak to people, [they] want information and [they] want air.”