Editor’s Note: this story has been updated with additional details.
Renee and Clyde Smith’s adventure on a Diamond Princess cruise ship started out well.
The Atlanta couple took an excursion to Hạ Long Bay in northeast Vietnam, known for its emerald waters and towering limestone islands topped by rain forests. They renewed their marriage vows on the ship.
But their trip took a dramatic turn as a new coronavirus, declared a global health emergency nearly two weeks ago, swept through the now-quarantined cruise liner. They are now among the 174 passengers and crew who tested positive for the deadly virus.
The couple, both 80, are hospitalized in a Tokyo hospital.
They are in good spirits, according to their son, David Smith, an attorney who lives in Macon.
When they first arrived at the hospital, the couple were in side-by-side rooms. But a nurse moved Clyde into his wife’s room so they could be together, Smith said.
“My mom loves the nurse. She talks about how nice she is. She keeps saying they must think we’re important people because we are being treated so well,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Though they tested positive, Smith said, neither of his parents are showing symptoms of the coronavirus.
His two nephews, both metro Atlanta residents in their 20s, also were on the cruise ship. They all shared a small, window-less room.
Smith said his parents had been on an excursion bus with a man who was diagnosed with the virus. After the Diamond Princess arrived Feb. 3 in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, it was placed under quarantine. About 3,700 people were on board the cruise ship.
His parents and nephews passed time reading and watching movies, including “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Aquaman.”
The broader coronavirus outbreak started in December in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people in China. Since then, the number of diagnoses has exploded.
The vast majority of cases of coronavirus, which was officially named COVID-19 earlier this week, are in China. The number of diagnoses there has climbed to 44,730, and the death toll has reached 1,114, according to the World Health Organization. Outside of China, there are 441 cases and one death, according to WHO. Twenty-eight of the confirmed cases are in Japan, not counting the passengers and crew of the Diamond Princess.
There are 14 cases of the virus in the U.S.
Meanwhile in Georgia, there are no confirmed cases but nearly 200 residents are quarantined in their homes. All of those confined recently returned from trips to China.
So far, Georgia authorities said Tuesday, none of the Georgia residents has shown symptoms of the virus. And none visited China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak.
For now, Smith plans to remain here. He said he’s been advised by everyone, including his parents and his brother, who is a doctor, to not travel to a high-risk area.
Smith said he was “freaking out” when he first heard about his parents’ diagnoses, but he’s more at ease after talking to them Tuesday evening. They both seem well, he said.
Smith said he was happy to see his dad, a retired administrator for the state of Georgia, and his mother, a retired elementary schoolteacher, travel around the globe.
He said his father went to go work for the state after leaving a high paying pharmaceutical job “so he could take time off to have lunch with his kids, and have more family time,” he said. “My mom graduated top of her class at Emory University and then stayed home to raise us, and then afterwards became a school teacher.”
Smith has heard from more than 100 people — from church friends to neighbors to former colleagues of their parents — expressing concern but also letting him know they are praying for his parents.
“My parents are the most caring, loving people,” he said. “They always have a good attitude, no matter what.”
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