The Jakarta Post
After working aboard the Diamond Princess throughout its 14-day quarantine in Yokohama, Japan, I Wayan Sudiarta was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief over the weekend when he found that he had tested negative for COVID-19.
The Feb. 24 records showed that 691 passengers and crew of the cruise ship had contracted the disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that emerged in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
Although the 24-year-old felt lucky that he was not among the nine Indonesian colleagues who had contracted the virus, the negative test result did not allay the worries of Sudiarta and the 68 Indonesian crewmen who remain on the ship.
"Although we have tested negative [for COVID-19], we are worried because we are still on the cruise ship. We have yet to breathe fresh air," said the father of two before continuing with a plea to the Indonesian government: "Please, evacuate us as soon as possible."
Masfud, who works as a chef de partie on the ship, said that morale was rapidly diminishing among all Indonesian crew that remained on the vessel, as they lived under the constant fear of contracting the virus as they waited for the government's decision.
The native of Surabaya, East Java, stressed that the vessel was "contaminated" with the coronavirus, which had been proven by the fact that the number of confirmed cases among the ship's passengers and crew had continued to increase throughout the quarantine period.
Masfud said that some of his colleagues had been healthy before, "but they were quarantined in the same cabin with a crew member who was showing certain symptoms, such as a high temperature". Later, everyone in the cabin had tested positive for the virus.
He said that the operator of the Diamond Princess was allowing its crew members to disembark, as long as their governments had made arrangements for their repatriation. He said that all passengers had left the ship by Tuesday, which left some 400 crew members on board.
He begged President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to rescue them, adding that the governments of the United States, Canada, South Korea and several European countries were planning to begin evacuating their nationals among the crew on Tuesday.
"What is the government waiting for? Are they waiting for the remaining 69 of us to become infected?" said Masfud.
On Feb. 5, Japanese authorities quarantined the Diamond Princess as well as its 3,711 passengers and crew for two weeks, docked in Yokohama, in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. By the time the ship was released from quarantine on Feb. 19, however, 634 of all those aboard had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Indonesian government had recently floated a plan to evacuate the remaining healthy Indonesians onboard, with officials saying that it might either send an aircraft or the Indonesian Navy's Dr. Soeharso Hospital Ship on the humanitarian mission.
However, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said on Monday that Jakarta was negotiating with Tokyo on the evacuation options.
While acknowledging the increasing number of infected aboard the cruise ship, Terawan said the government did not want to "make a rash decision" as regards the evacuation, stressing that it wanted to ensure that the evacuation would not spread the virus to the archipelago.
Indonesia maintains that it has zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date, although a recent report about a Japanese man raised fear among the public that infections were going undetected.
The Indonesian crewmen expressed their hope that the government would airlift them from the Diamond Princess. Sudiarta noted that if Jakarta decided to send a ship, they would have to wait another 14 days or so until it arrived in Yokohama.
The crewmen's main concern is that the probability of their becoming infected would increase the longer they stayed aboard.
"We don't want to become infected after previously testing negative," Sudiarta emphasized.
Indonesian crewman I Ketut Januartika agreed with Sudiarta, and reiterated the group's hope that the government would send a plane to bring them home.
“Anything could happen in the days we [have to] wait for a ship to get here,” he said.
Januartika said he was willing to be quarantined again once they had arrived back in Indonesia.
“If the government could come collect us by aircraft, I am ready for another quarantine. But please, don’t come get us by ship. It would take too long while we wait here,” he said.