For Spanish traveler Carlos Payá, participating in a luxury cruise around the world while the rest of the world was rushing home for fear of the COVID-19 pandemic was beyond surrealism. It was “just luck.”
Now, her journey into the virus-free bubble that the cruise ship Costa Deliziosa has become during her 15-week odyssey is coming to an end. The boat smokes towards Barcelona, in Spain, where it will make its first stop on Monday after 35 days of continuous navigation without human contact with the outside world.
“It was not surreal. It was incredible, “Payá told the Associated Press by text message on Saturday evening. ¨We have family in our countries of origin. The news coming from us caused us a lot of worry and heartache. For us, it was a stroke of luck to be where we were. “
Payá, 58, a sports writer traveling with his wife, said that when the news started to reach the boat of the rapid spread of the coronavirus in their native Spain, their first desire was to return home with their two adult children in their hometown of Valencia.
But with the ports refusing to allow the boat to enter, they had to allay their concern about the amenities on board.
Unlike other cruise ships that have suffered epidemics and have often been quarantined to protect port cities, the Deliziosa has found no cases of the COVID-19 virus, according to its owner, the Italian cruise line Costa Crociere. The 1,831 passengers on the boat were therefore free to use the ship’s facilities and entertainment.
Payá said the ship, which set sail from Venice in early January, stopped calling after leaving Western Australia last month. Overall, he congratulated the captain and the crew for their care.
He said the passengers’ last chance to land was in Perth, where they docked after “70 wonderful days” of crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was then that the United Nations World Health Organization alerted the pandemic in March. From that moment on, the ship only made technical stops and supplies, before returning to the Mediterranean, which led it by the Suez Canal, according to the company.
“Of course, for those of us who have children in Spain, we would have preferred to return,” said Payá. “Other passengers, on the other hand, given their age, wanted to stay on board knowing that the boat was safe and secure. “
A company spokesman said a passenger left the ship earlier in the week in Marsala, Sicily, due to health concerns and had a negative COVID-19 test. Costa said the passengers were confined to their cabins only for the period until the ship learned that the sick guest who descended on Sicily had a negative result. He does not say how long this period lasted.
The Deliziosa, a ship nearly 300 meters (1,000 feet), will land 168 Spanish passengers on Monday in the port of Barcelona. The Deliziosa will then head to its final destination, Genoa, Italy, where it is expected to release the remaining passengers, Italians and those of other nationalities, on Wednesday. The Deliziosa was originally scheduled to return to Venice on April 26.
The French authorities had rejected a request from Costa for authorization to disembark in Marseille several hundred passengers from France and neighboring countries. “The health status on board the ships, with 1,814 guests and 898 crew members, presents no public health concerns and no cases of COVID-19,” said Costa’s statement.
Although people infected with coronavirus often have mild or moderate symptoms, possible complications like pneumonia can be life threatening.
Passenger Jean-Pierre Escarras, from Marseille, filmed a video from their cabin that their daughters shared on social media, in which he said: “This is our place of confinement. We are lucky to have a window. “
The couple said that after a stopover in Sydney, the ship’s activities were “reduced or sometimes canceled.” We haven’t been able to go out on earth since March 14 – it’s been 34 days. “
Passengers said that the ports of Oman, along the Suez Canal, as well as the ports of Seychelles and the Indian Ocean, refused to let the ship dock.
The company said that because the ship was flying the Italian flag, it followed the Italian precautionary measures used in the pandemic, including the safety distance between customers, such as managing the number of people who could enter the areas food at all times and the transmission of entertainment to cabin televisions.
A French woman whose in-laws are aboard the Deliziosa has collected a hundred signatures on an online petition to urge the French government to intervene to bring them home.
The Bouches-du-Rhône regional administration in southern France has cited a national ban on allowing foreign cruise ships to dock as part of containment measures linked to the virus in France. Italy has also banned foreign cruise ships as it fights against the virus epidemic.
The French administration has granted exemptions to six other cruise ships in recent weeks to allow French passengers to descend, but refused this time, saying that the previous stops had overwhelmed the local police and the health authorities already mobilized to fight against France’s serious viral crisis.
Last month, two other Costa cruise liners disembarked in Italian ports, including one that had previously embarked passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 before disembarking in France.
It is unclear whether or where the passengers who were to disembark after weeks of sailing on the Deliziosa would be quarantined as a precaution.
What is clear is that Payá and the other passengers are returning to a new reality of home confinement, face masks and even more concern.
“Coming home will mean a radical, brutal change,” said Payá on Sunday after packing his bags before spending his last night on the Deliziosa. “Fear is what drove many passengers to stay on board. But this is something we have to face, just like our families, friends and neighbors have already done. “
Angela Charlton reported from Paris. Frances D’Emilio reported from Rome. Colleen Barry contributed from Soave, Italy.
Follow the AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak