These Canadians who caught novel coronavirus say they barely knew they were infected

By | March 13, 2020

For Canadian Craig Lee, possibly the worst symptom of the new coronavirus came on a bus that took him to a Japanese quarantine centre.

Wrapped up in a winter coat, wearing a face mask and surrounded by other cruise-ship passengers, he felt decidedly claustrophobic.

But through the 16 days after Lee first tested positive for the virus,  he experienced no other ill effects — apart from being away from his wife and son in Richmond Hill, Ont.

The infectious disease that has now been classified as a pandemic is striking fear throughout the world, not least because it has caused thousands of deaths, mostly among the elderly and unwell.

There’s really no need to panic

But for some Canadians who contracted SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen has been little more than an inconvenience.

“We felt perfectly fine, perfectly normal,” said Rose Yerex, 66, of Port Dover, Ont., who like Lee was infected on the Diamond Princess ship that became an inadvertent incubator for the virus. “We would have had no idea.”

Most of the 3,700 Diamond Princess passengers and crew were kept on the vessel for days after it docked in Yokohama, Japan, as the number of infected grew eventually to over 700. Of those, seven people died, all in their 70s and 80s.

But Lee said he heard that 80 per cent of the cruisers who tested positive were asymptomatic like him, Yerex and her husband. Researchers have reported that about half of the infected passengers never got sick.

Rose and Greg Yerex on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship where the were infected with the new coronavirus. Handout

Lee said his experience tells him that Canadians should be vigilant and follow the guidance of public-health authorities, but not panic.

“Be prudent. Don’t blow things out of proportion,” he said. “You don’t need to get three months’ worth of toilet paper.… You can get over it fairly easily.”

The Diamond Princess onboard-quarantine began after a passenger disembarked in Hong Kong and was diagnosed with the new virus.

Lee, 72, and his travelling companion were confined for days to their inside cabin — ie. with no window — and allowed periodic outings on deck.

Finally, a swab from inside his mouth came back positive for SARS-CoV-2 on Feb. 15.

“My heart just sank,” he said. “I wrote to the (Canadian) embassy saying ‘I have no symptoms, I have an appetite, I exercise, I sleep well, I have no temperature, and I have a wife at home who is mobility challenged and a son who is autistic. I need to get home.’ ”

Officials said he was out of luck until his infection ended. But both he and his friend — who never tested positive — were allowed off the ship and put on a bus to a newly built but empty clinic in Nagoya, 300 kilometres west of Tokyo.

They travelled in a convoy that included trailers with mobile bathrooms, which they had to use instead of public facilities at a rest stop two hours into the trip.

Everyone on the bus and on Lee’s floor at the clinic was asymptomatic. Travel mates were accommodated on another floor of the facility.

He never did get sick. Every day, a nurse would measure his oxygen saturation level — an indicator of how effectively the lungs are supplying oxygen to red blood cells. The readings were never less than optimal, he said.

“There was nothing wrong with my respiratory system at all.”

Rose and Greg Yerex at a quarantine centre in Nagoya, Japan, after becoming infected with the new coronavirus. Handout

About two weeks into the ordeal, Lee registered the two negative tests that meant his time in quarantine was officially over.

After a night in a hotel and a certificate signed by Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer of health, he and his friend were cleared to fly home.

Yerex and her husband, Greg, 68, retired municipal and oil-company employees respectively, also got their positive test results on Feb. 15 and were bused to the same quarantine centre in Nagoya. Most of the staff spoke no English.

“It was sort of scary, not knowing how long it would take to become negative, having the challenge to communicate,” said Yerex.

I have an appetite, I exercise, I sleep well, I have no temperature

But there were consolations. The clinic stay gave them more room to stretch their legs than the ship and they were served three “wonderful” meals a day. The couple never developed symptoms.

Rose got her double-negative tests within a few days of arriving at the clinic — about Feb. 21 — her husband a week later. They stayed together until they could both leave.

She also advises both vigilance and calm if the virus begins spreading more widely in Canada.

“There are common-sense guidelines to follow and I think if you follow them, there’s really no need to panic.”

Health – National Post