Home is where you feel the most safe at. But what if you were told that you couldn’t go home? That you must remain on a cruise ship trapped with people who have tested positive for a dangerous virus that has overtaken the globe. Would you feel like you’re starring in a new horror movie? Would the 2011 film Contagion come to mind?
Using intimate footage recorded by passengers and crew, The Last Cruise, is a first person account of the nightmare that transpired aboard the Diamond Princes cruise ship, where more than 700 people were infected with COVID-19 – more than half of all documented cases outside of China, as of February 26, 2020.
Setting sail from Yokohama, Japan on January 20, 2020 in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The quarantined Diamond Princess floating in a Japanese harbor became a global spectacle – a faraway symbol of the new virus and its potential to upend any sense of normalcy. Otherworldly scenes – scientists in hazmat suits, passengers in face masks and cleaning teams spraying disinfectant on empty shipboard buffets — packed the nightly news. With little information available about the new virus and limited access to resources, the ship’s cases soared.
Passengers were quarantined in their staterooms for weeks while the number of cases on board skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the crew tended to the passengers, delivered room service and slept and dined in cramped, shared quarters. They’d become what we’d later term “essential workers.” The ship would ultimately account for the first citizens of Argentina, Israel, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, and New Zealand to test positive for COVID-19.
While the Diamond Princess was in quarantine, U.S. government scientists studied what was transpiring on board. Despite their findings that the virus was likely airborne and that asymptomatic people contributed to the spread, it would be more than one month before the CDC advised the use of masks and more than two months — and one million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States — before the CDC advised testing asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the virus.
The Last Cruise, premieres tonight (9:00 p.m ET/PT) and will be available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max.