NATIONAL NEWS - Nothing sounds more inviting than a cruise holiday through beautiful seas, with entertainment on board, and finally docking at a place with scenery just as beautiful as the ocean.
The MSC Orchestra is one of the most popular cruise liners among travellers, though recently they have made headlines by searching for passengers who were on the ship for two specific cruises departing from Durban.
Both cruises were to the Portuguese Islands and one departed on 28 February, returning on 2 March, and the other departed on 13 March, returning on 16 March.
The call for the passengers to make contact with the KwaZulu-Natal and Free State Health Departments comes after two confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported from passengers on the ship.
What would you do if you were on that ship for the cruise in between those dates? Marita Janse van Vuuren knows first-hand what that experience is like after her Super Sokkie Cruise on the same boat from 6 to 9 March.
Marita, her husband, and two of her best friends were excited to board the cruise and sail away on a musical holiday on board the MSC Orchestra, unaware initially of what had happened one cruise before. Only recently did Marita and her fellow passengers find out about the cases confirmed on board. Even now, knowing that they may have been at risk, Marita describes the cruise as the best holiday ever, and if she had the money, she would do it over and over again.
While the group of four wasn’t initially aware of the case reported from the ship, the first two positive cases in South Africa were announced the evening before they embarked, making boarding the ship absolute chaos.
The terminal was packed with more than 3 000 passengers as they disembarked from the previous cruise and needed to be scanned for the virus with a thermal camera, and then fill out a medical travel questionnaire. The same process applied to the embarking passengers, meaning that they only boarded the ship at about 12.30pm. “As exhausting as this was, we were thankful for the safety measures the MSC had put in place to keep us at ease,” said Marita.
The crew were ready with sanitizes for whenever a passenger entered a restaurant or the buffet area for the entire trip.
When the four friends returned they needed to undergo a nine-day isolation period, but still being on leave from work until 13 March, they didn’t think much of it until their employers instructed them otherwise.
“When our employers instructed us to stay at home until 20 March, reality kicked in and I was devastated at first. It felt like we had done something wrong and were being punished,” Marita continued.
The emotional roller coaster was one of the worst parts for her. All she wanted to do was go back to work and tell her colleagues of the wonderful time she had. But she spent her days in isolation thinking, ‘I am okay, but what if?’
Marita’s main concern was that they had been in contact with their family and friends since returning, so what if they were infected and had now infected others? As paranoia kicked in, their emotional turmoil only got worse, especially after one of the friends who had been on the cruise developed flu-like symptoms.
She was later tested, with a negative result, and all four members of the group were declared fit for work by their GP, subsequently ending the emotional roller coaster as they returned to their jobs.
By the time Marita returned to work, everyone was well aware of social distancing, so there were no hugs and warm welcomes when she arrived, but she was still thankful that no one seemed to be avoiding her.
With the newly imposed lockdown, Marita says that being thankful and humble has helped her stay sane and keep a positive attitude. “I am thankful for my health, for being able to earn my salary from home, spending lockdown with the people I love, and being able to go on that once in a lifetime cruise, but most of all, I am thankful for a God whom I know will make this all work out well in the end,” she concluded.