A Scottish ballet dancer says she feels like one of the “luckiest people in the world” after the cruise ship she was working on for four months finally docked in France this week.
She certainly is one of the lucky ones. The Guardian reported that more than 100,000 crew workers are still trapped on cruise ships – at least 50 of which have COVID-19 infections – as they are shut out of ports and banned from air travel home.
As the crisis snowballed, the now-infamous Diamond Princess was the first ship to have a major outbreak onboard, remaining stationary with passengers quarantined in Yokohama for one month. Over 700 people became infected, and 12 people died.
Ballerine Suzy Halstead, 28, was part of a dance team who were performing a rigorous line-up of 20 shows, ranging from the mythical Atlantis to gritty West Side Story.
Departing Genoa at the beginning of January, the MSC Magnifica set off on a world cruise of 23 countries and 43 destinations with more than 2,000 passengers onboard.
Suzy, who formerly performed with Scottish Ballet and is from Perth, said: “I feel like we are the luckiest people in the world right now.
“We have been in our own little bubble and have completely avoided the virus.
“I have been trying not to post too many updates on social media as I feel like I’m rubbing it in – especially as a lot of my friends are now out of work.”
Visiting South America first, the cruise effectively sailed away from the eastern outbreak.
Only as March began, when navigating the Cook Islands and “lucking out” with an extra day in Rarotonga, did the virus begin to affect the ship’s scheduling.
Having been turned away from Aitutaki, an extra overnight stop was decided.
Suzy said: “It was great getting to stay two whole days – it was like a bonus holiday. We were living in our own little bubble on board. The Wi-Fi wasn’t free; so no-one was really keeping up-to-date, apart from what we saw on TV. We didn’t expect it to become global.”
Planned ports in New Zealand were unaffected, but when the boat then headed to Hobart, Tasmania, they were told they would not be allowed to disembark.
Suzy said: “It was quite frustrating, we had no signs of the Coronavirus on board, but the captain took the decision not to let us off.
“I’m so glad he did – he had everyone’s safety in mind; he has been brilliant.”
The ship then docked in Sydney, but once again the decision was taken that no-one could leave. Suzy said it was “very frustrating”, adding: “We were sitting right next to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
“What made it even more difficult for me was that my sister – who I haven’t seen for 18 months – had been planning to meet up with me.
“To be on the other side of the world and still not able to see her was very hard, but there were literally hundreds of us in the same boat, to pardon the pun.”
Now, as the UK faced lockdown, MSC announced all cruises were cancelled and gave passengers the choice to fly home or set sail for a four-week non-stop journey home.
Suzy said: “The majority of our passengers were over 70-years-old, so most of them decided to stay on board and make the best of it.
“Because of them I kept on going – I still had a job to do.”
The 16-strong entertainment team quickly modifying their planned performances, keeping the shows coming.
Suzy explained: “Ordinarily, there would have been local performers arriving on board to showcase traditional dances and some artists were being flown in and out to coincide with specific productions we were putting on.
“Our director re-jigged things so we could keep the show on the road, we never performed the same thing twice. It felt good to be busy – we were safe in our bubble.”
Having departed Sydney, the boat arrived in Marseilles earlier this week. Suzy and the rest of the dance crew have since been busily cleaning, fixing and stowing away their elaborate costumes for future productions.
“It feels surreal,” Suzy said. “We’re packing everything up; the swimming pools have been drained; the passenger areas have been deep cleaned – it’s back to being a regular ship.”
The remaining crew, since docking in France, have begun social distancing, something Suzy knows she will need to get used to.
She said: “The main thing I’m looking forward to is getting home to see my mum and dad – and getting some home-cooking.”
However, there is a bittersweet ending to Suzy’s journey, as she has waved goodbye to her Ukrainian dance partner and long-term boyfriend, Andrii Osadchyi. The couple don’t know when they will see each other again as Andrii was not allowed into the UK.
Suzy joked: “We did consider asking the captain to marry us, but that’s not really how I imagined my wedding to take place. We will just need to wait and see what happens.”
Words by Joanne Warnock