Tehya Pfeffer and her grandmother have been stuck on the Diamond Princess for two weeks. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer
Tehya Pfeffer and her grandmother have been stuck on the Diamond Princess for two weeks. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer

Teen’s ‘upsetting’ ordeal on virus ship

Australians who have been stranded on the virus-hit Diamond Princess will finally return to home soil today, but they face another two weeks in lockdown before they can go back to normal life.

A Qantas evacuation flight will leave Tokyo's Haneda Airport tonight to take Australian evacuees to a former workers' site near Darwin, where they will be held in quarantine for 14 days to stop the potential spread of the killer virus.

"It is a little upsetting because we have been away from our families for so long, however we know that it is the safest option," Australian passenger Tehya Pfeffer, 18, told news.com.au.

The university student from Brisbane and her grandmother, Cathy, are among about 170 Australian passengers who will board the Qantas flight from Tokyo today.

They have already spent two weeks on the Diamond Princess, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 542 overnight.

 

Tehya Pfeffer and her grandmother have been stuck on the Diamond Princess for two weeks. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer
Tehya Pfeffer and her grandmother have been stuck on the Diamond Princess for two weeks. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer

 

The pair were on a cruise through South-East Asia to celebrate Cathy’s 70th birthday. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer
The pair were on a cruise through South-East Asia to celebrate Cathy’s 70th birthday. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer

 

About 15 Australian passengers reportedly declined the Federal Government's evacuation offer, while 16 others who caught coronavirus will remain in Japan where they are receiving medical treatment.

Ms Pfeffer had joined her grandmother Cathy Pfeffer on the Diamond Princess cruise through South-East Asia to mark Cathy's 70th birthday, after last-minute sickness stopped her grandfather from coming along.

They've spent the past fortnight mostly confined to their cabins under strict quarantine rules as the ship was docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama.

"I wasn't worried about getting sick. The crew and quarantine officials were very cautious and we were confined to our rooms for pretty much the entire time," Ms Pfeffer said.

"It was OK being on the ship, as long as you kept yourself busy.

 

Tehya Pfeffer is due to start university this year.
Tehya Pfeffer is due to start university this year.

 

"Everyone was properly instructed on how to protect everyone from the virus. We always wore masks and gloves when going out of the room for fresh air or opening the door for crew. Our contact with crew was limited, but when they came to give us food they always wore gloves and masks."

Ms Pfeffer said the hardest part of the ordeal was "the fact that we haven't seen our families for almost a month now".

Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says the evacuees returning to Australian will have 24/7 access to medical assistance at the Darwin facility, where they will be kept separate from hundreds of people already there who were evacuated from virus epicentre Wuhan.

 

Tehya Pfeffer and her grandmother Cathy. Picture: Today
Tehya Pfeffer and her grandmother Cathy. Picture: Today

 

The quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored at the Yokohama Port near Tokyo. Picture: AP/Koji Sasahara
The quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored at the Yokohama Port near Tokyo. Picture: AP/Koji Sasahara

 

"I can be absolutely confident that they will be very well looked after here, in much better facilities than being in a tiny cabin on a cruise ship," Prof Murphy said.

Each Australian evacuee will be health tested before they can get on a bus to take them to Haneda Airport and will be checked a further five times before being allowed to board the Boeing 747 home.

Qantas crew will not make direct contact with evacuees, whose food will be waiting for them at their seats when they board the plane.

The Australians will be checked again when they arrive in Darwin.

Earlier, Cathy Pfeffer told Today she understood the need for precautions.

"The testing, I think, (is) really, really necessary because we've been on the ship for 14 days," she said.

"I was tested last Friday, Tehya was tested last Friday, (then) Tehya was tested two days ago. That's the only testing we've actually had while we've been on the ship. To protect our families at home, I think it's really important that we are tested quite thoroughly before we are actually allowed into the community."

While the conditions were difficult, she said she'd enjoyed the time spent with Tehya.

"The bonding session has been amazing," she said.

"We have been talking (about) who would we like to be with if we were deserted like this again. I said I would like to be with my granddaughter again."

Passengers had to mostly stay in their cabins on the Diamond Princess during quarantine. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer
Passengers had to mostly stay in their cabins on the Diamond Princess during quarantine. Picture: Tehya Pfeffer

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