COVID 19: Gatineau couple infected with COVID 19 on Diamond Princess relieved to be home

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A nurse wears a sticker reading "stop corona" at the infection station of the university hospital in Essen, Germany, Thursday, March 12, 2020. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

GATINEAU, Que.  A couple from Gatineau, Que., are warning Canadians to be vigilant about COVID-19 after contracting the virus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

Bernard and Diane Menard said conditions on the ship were difficult and at times they feared dying.

The couple in their 70s were among the more than 700 people who contracted COVID-19 aboard the ship, which had been docked in Yokohama since early February.

Now recovered, they said they are relieved to be home.

What started like an innocuous cold changed into a cough and fever over the next days, as well as pneumonia for Bernard, who has previously had cancer.

“We were fighting against something we didn’t understand at all,” the 75-year-old man said at a news conference, where the couple was accompanied by their two daughters.

The couple warned that COVID-19 is highly contagious and the symptoms can be hard to recognize at first.

“You don’t know, with this sickness,” Diane Menard said. “You can have it and feel nothing. It’s like an ordinary cold.”

The couple said many of the ship’s passengers didn’t follow directives and regularly removed their face masks to smoke or take photos.

As a result, the Menards, who both have health issues, decided not to leave their tiny cabin and spent only two hours outside over the course of an entire month.

They eventually fell ill and were taken to a Japanese military hospital, where they were quarantined until they tested negative and were cleared to come home.

The couple had harsh words for the Canadian government, which they say waited too long to get them off the ship. Instead they credited their daughters, Isabelle and Chantal, for working tirelessly to get them home.

“It’s not with the Canadian government that we got out of there,” Diane Menard said.

“It’s with those two girls there,” her husband added, turning towards them.

The Menards, who had previously been a fan of cruises, say they’re not sure they’ll be returning to the seas.

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