Greg and Rose Yerex say they felt a bit like castaways on what was to be a dream cruise through Asia.
It instead became a nightmare for the Port Dover couple after they spent two weeks on a quarantined ship in Japan following a coronavirus outbreak and, after both tested positive for COVID-19, another 12 days in a Japanese clinic.
“It felt like Gilligan’s Island,” said Rose Yerex in a telephone conversation from her home, two days after the couple finally flew back to Canada. “We set sail for a journey, something happens and we don’t get home.”
The couple, both musicians who play in several local bands, used their love of music — even the Gilligan’s Island theme song — to help them through their ordeal. Many days, Yerex posted to Facebook lyrics from tunes that fit their frame of mind, everything from We Gotta Get Out of This Place to, finally, Leaving on a Jet Plane.
It’s a medley the couple may not want to replay.
Their problems began on Feb. 2, when they were scheduled to head into their last port of call in Okinawa, Japan, after an almost month-long cruise aboard the Diamond Princess.
Yerex said everyone, whether they wanted to take an excursion onto the island or not, were being scanned for body temperature. There were 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board.
“It took hours,” said Yerex. “We kind of figured it was the virus.
“The next day there was an announcement by the captain of the ship that we were going to increase speed to Yokohama because a passenger had the virus.”
Anchored at Yokohama while the crew awaited word from Japanese authorities, passengers soon were quarantined to their rooms.
Greg said their room was about 12 feet by 14 feet and taken up mostly by a king-sized bed. The couple watched from their small balcony as more and more passengers were taken from the ship to waiting ambulances.
“They gave us a box of laundry detergent so we could do some handwashing in the sink. They tried to arrange times so passengers could up go on deck. We went for a one-hour walk once, then didn’t want to risk it.”
During the quarantine, the couple spent their time watching movies and connecting with family and friends on social media, which Yerex called “a lifesaver.”
All the while, Yerex said she and her husband felt fine and were “just counting down the days until the end of the 14-day quarantine.”
But on Feb. 18, they got results of their throat swab testing — Greg tested positive for COVID-19, and Rose tested negative. A day later, she was told she also was positive.
“We’re still not sure if it was a misunderstanding,” said Yerex of her positive test. “There was a language barrier. Communication the whole time we were in Japan was a huge issue.”
The couple then spent seven hours travelling in a bus loaded with people from the ship who tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic to a new clinic in Nagoya that wasn’t supposed to open until April. The bus had police and military escort and traffic was blocked along the route.
“You have no idea where you’re going,” said Yerex. “The majority of people don’t speak English. It was pretty scary heading into the unknown.”
In the clinic, the couple was assigned a four-bed ward, where they stayed on separate sides of the room.
“There was a physical distance but we were still there for emotional support,” said Yerex. “It made a huge difference. I can’t imagine anybody going through that alone.”
At first, the couple said they also felt disconnected from Canadian officials.
“Initially, we really felt kind of alone,” said Yerex. “When we got to the clinic we were given a sheet with embassy numbers on it but had no way to contact them. We had no idea how to reach out to anybody.”
Yerex eventually connected with a journalist in Beijing, who sent contact information for the Canadian Red Cross.
Swag bags from the Canadian embassy, filled with slippers, toothpaste and other essentials, eventually arrived. So, too, did help from the Red Cross.
Nasal swabs done at the clinic for Rose came back negative but it wasn’t until March 2 that Greg had two negative tests and the couple was cleared to go home.
Two days later, they flew out of Nagoya for Toronto. Back in Port Dover, they are enjoying small luxuries — fresh brewed coffee, their own bed and space to roam around.
“We’re glad it’s all over. It’s a huge relief.”
Although they’ve been cleared by the Public Health Agency of Canada, they have placed themselves in self-isolation for another week.
“We want to ensure our friends and family are protected from this COVID-19 virus,” said Yerex. “We want people to feel safe around us.”
After March 14, Yerex wrote to her Facebook friends, “Let’s party!”
And, even after all they’ve been through, the couple aren’t ruling out another vacation at sea.
“We haven’t given up on cruising — but not for a long while.”