Coronavirus aboard: Hampstead couple stuck on cruise ship in Brazil for their 66th wedding anniversary
PUBLISHED: 17:14 19 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:13 23 March 2020
When Alan and Gwen Cohen opened their cabin door they saw two figures in white suits and masks, who “looked like they came from another world”.
On March 16 it was the Hampstead Garden Suburb couple’s 66th wedding anniversary, and the visitors were no prank, they were the ship’s doctor and nurse.
The couple, aged 89 and 86, had been locked in their luxury cabin for more than a week – after a 78-year-old Canadian passenger fell ill with coronavirus. That passenger was removed from the cruise-liner to a hospital in the Brazilian port of Recife.
Now back in London and in a period of self-isolation, the Cohens were among more than 300 passengers, 108 of them British, marooned on board the Silver Shadow, along with its more than 200 crew.
Disputes broke out between the various governments involved over what to do with the passengers and crew.
The British government ultimately chartered a flight to transport the passengers back to the UK.
While they remained on the ship, the doctor and nurse would come daily to their cabin to check their temperatures.
Speaking last week, Alan said: “The nurse points that thermometer thing about half an inch from our foreheads, and she calls out the numbers to the doctor, who stays just outside the cabin door. They were, of course, our only visitors on our clickety-click anniversary.
“I didn’t bother to tell them it was a special day. All we did to celebrate it was click and sip two cups of tea. There was no Champagne.
“Mind you, I cannot complain about the service. They leave a tray outside our door three times a day, then the steward disappears and we creep out to bring it inside the cabin.
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“We even have a restricted menu pushed under the door in the morning for the day’s choices. Not bad given the circumstances.”
His son Malcolm wrote to MP Mike Freer, expressing fear that at their advanced ages his parents are at risk of “severe complications”.
“What a contrast to last year’s anniversary – our 65th since we got married in Glasgow. We had a superb little party last March at my son’s home in Totteridge,” said Alan last week. “A cake with a lovely message on it. And a flattering photo. Now we can only talk to my son and daughter-in-law by WhatsApp – when I can get the darn thing to work. But we can chat to other passengers on the phones we have from cabin to cabin. And we’re so fortunate to have a balcony, so we can breathe fresh air and yell to our neighbours. Some on board don’t have balconies and I feel so sorry for them, all cooped up like that.”
In their younger days Alan and Gwen were magistrates, and Alan ran a successful furniture-making factory in east London, as well as being a councillor for Finchley and Barnet.
Alan said they tried to wash their hands every hour and added: “We are bored but well. It’s this interminable waiting that’s getting us down.
“This was a fine cruise for a few days and we were so looking forward to the Caribbean leg of it.
“The cruise was quite expensive. I’d rather not say how much. We may get some refunds and insurance pay-outs, but that is not even something on my mind.
“All we can think of is how nice it would be to be home in Hampstead Garden Suburb.”
The couple flew to Rio de Janeiro to join the cruise on March 7. It was supposed to go on to the Caribbean and finish at Fort Lauderdale.
“They were told last week all the ship’s passengers and crew would have to stay confined on board for 14 days after the last case of coronavirus,” said son Malcolm Cohen. “That’s unacceptable, it puts them at unnecessary risk.”
He said there was a continuous worry, given his parents’ age. Last Thursday he expressed frustration that an evacuation had still not started.
Barnet Council’s page with advice and information about services can be found at www.barnet.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-latest-information-and-advice.