Ottawa

'We just keep to ourselves': Couple waiting out coronavirus quarantine a day at a time

Former Diamond Princess passengers Jennifer Lee and Ben Yeung are in their fourth day of a two-week quarantine at the Nav Centre in Cornwall, Ont.

129 Canadians who were passengers aboard Diamond Princess now in isolation at Cornwall's Nav Centre

Jennifer Lee strolls outside the Nav Centre in Cornwall, Ont. The couple is allowed out for fresh air, but Lee said they don't mingle with other former Diamond Princess passengers. (Ben Yeung)

It's been a long journey for Jennifer Lee and Ben Yeung, who are among the 129 Canadians who have gone from quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess in Japan to another 14 days of isolation in Cornwall, Ont.

But for Lee, one of the scariest parts was the bus trip from CFB Trenton, where they landed early Friday morning, to Cornwall's Nav Centre, their new temporary home.

"We were packed into that bus," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "We thought if we were going to contract the virus, it would be there, while we were in the bus." 

At one point, Lee said the bus had to pull over until authorities gave the go-ahead to continue. 

"We were not allowed to leave the bus, so we just sat there for 45 minutes. Some people were coughing. I hope it was nothing to do with the virus."

Lee says the room she shares with husband Ben Yeung at the Nav Centre is about the same size as their cabin aboard the Diamond Princess. (Ben Leung)

Fears are growing that the COVID-19 outbreak could become a pandemic. Most infections have been confined to China, but other countries including South Korea, Italy and Iran are battling to contain the virus. Canada has a new presumptive case in Toronto after a patient arrived from China on Friday. If it's confirmed, it would be this country's 10th case.

'The view is amazing'

Now four days into their two-week quarantine and ensconced in a room on the Nav Centre's fourth floor, where the B.C. couple has a view of the St. Lawrence River, Lee said things are finally looking up.

"The view is amazing. Beautiful."

But just look at that view. (Ben Yeung)

She said the room is about the same size as the couple's cabin on the Diamond Princess. She said it was a "big relief" to get off the cruise ship.

"It was just the fear. You don't know when you might contract the virus, because the figures kept going up."

Lee said she and her husband were "lucky" to have an outside cabin with a balcony throughout their 16-day quarantine aboard the ship."If I were trapped in a windowless cabin, I think I would [have gone] crazy."  

Their balcony offered them an up-close look as the crisis unfolded around them. "There were a lot of ambulances at the port. People in full [protective] gear. That's what we saw every day." 

Staff friendly but cautious

Lee said they're being cared for very well at the Nav Centre, where the staff is friendly but cautious.

"Of course, they keep a big distance from us. Every time they knock on the door, they'll back up two metres … when they talk to us. Everybody is very cautious. They don't want to get too close to us."

That can add to the psychological toll, Lee said. "It makes us feel like we are already the patient, you know?"

Still, she's glad they're taking precautions."They're on their toes. It's fine."

A typical meal for those in quarantine at the Nav Centre. (Ben Yeung)

The couple is allowed outside for fresh air, but they don't mix with the others. "We don't even mingle with anybody else. We just don't talk to anyone. We just keep to ourselves." 

Lee said she's most looking forward to being reunited with family in B.C. once their quarantine is over, especially her "two daughters" — one her actual daughter, the other her Scottish terrier, Coco.

In the meantime, Lee and her husband say they have no symptoms of coronavirus. "Fingers crossed."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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