Covid: British couple among first to be hit by virus on Diamond Princess cruise are planning more trips this year

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Charlie Bayliss

A couple among the first Britons in the world to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic after an outbreak on their cruise ship have revealed they are planning five trips away in the upcoming months.

David and Sally Abel were holidaying off the coast of Japan when a Covid-19 outbreak infected dozens of passengers on board the Diamond Princess, causing the cruise liner to lockdown on February 4 2020.

The couple, now 75 and 72 respectively, were forced to stay in their rooms on board the ship for more than two weeks. The couple then caught coronavirus while on the ship and spent three weeks in a Japanese hospital.

Despite the nightmare experience, David and Sally's love for cruises is as strong as ever and they remain hopeful that they'll be able to enjoy more trips abroad once they've had their Covid-19 vaccinations.

"We have to plan for the future," said David.

"We've got five cruises booked already. In April, we were supposed to be flying to Canada, but I don't think that will happen... we've got five booked between 2021 and March 2022."

Neither David or Sally have been approached about receiving a coronavirus jab yet, despite David suffering a stroke in September last year.

Diamond Princess cruise ship which was anchored at the Yokohama Port. Credit: PA

David said: "I would have thought we would have been in the top groups. A few of our friends from different parts of the country have got the jabs.

"Once the virus is under control, we'll hopefully be able to travel again.

"I'm in touch with one of the directors of the cruise line on a regular basis and knowing everything that has been put in place health and safety wise, I think it's going to be one of the safest places to travel on.” 

Sally said: "We love cruises. It hasn't put us off at all."

'I almost passed out... I couldn't stand up'

David and Sally said they “loved” their experience on the Diamond Princess - up until the point where the virus ripped through the ship.

"We met really good people, the passengers were really good and the excursion were fantastic," he told ITV News.

David Abel receiving treatment for coronavirus in a hospital in Japan. Credit: PA

Japan refused to let the ship dock amid fears the virus could spread on the mainland. As they remained confined to the room, they said the "worst feeling" during their isolation was being “completely neglected and rejected” by the UK government. 

“When you have all the other countries lifting passengers off the ship, taking them home to Australia, France, Italy, America. What about us?"

The couple began making videos during while in quarantine, gaining tens of thousands of fans who followed their plight on social media.

"I was busy making videos all the time, basically for the family, but they just went viral and it's fantastic. On YouTube I gained something like 89,000 followers and 30,000 on Facebook,” David said.

Yet two weeks into their isolation, the pair contracted coronavirus and were so ill that they had to be rushed to hospital more than six hours away. Both were diagnosed with pneumonia and spent three weeks in hospital with Covid-19. 

David Abel and his wife Sally were among the passengers on board the Diamond Princess. Credit: David and Sally Abel/YouTube

While hospitalised with Covid-19 in Japan, the couple bought a narrowboat and were able to take the canals around their home near Northampton after arriving back home on March 13.

"I was sent me photographs of the boat while I was in hospital and I fell in love with it," David said.

"After our first lockdown, we spent many happy days and weeks on it but now we can't get access to it as the marina is closed.

"Back in March it was great to be back home in our garden with our dogs. It was good as it could be. But now we're just as sick as everyone else with lockdown."

Cancer scare and suffering a stroke after lockdown

It hasn't all been plain sailing for the couple. David suffered a cancer scare in June when he noticed a "wart-like lump" on his shoulder. He was told it had to be operated on but luckily "the thing fell off". Then just a few months later, he suffered a stroke.

"I was having a nap in the afternoon and my wife had noticed that my face had dropped on my left hand side. She called the paramedics. I was taken to the stroke unit in Northampton. But I've recovered from it exceptionally quickly and really well." 

Like the rest of the country, lockdown restrictions have taken their toll on the pair.

"Never at all did I think we'd be in the position we're in now. Never at all. It's crazy, isn't it?" David said.

Sally said: “It’s not just the travel, it’s just living daily. Getting out and about and seeing family." 

David said: “We haven’t seen family since before Christmas. We saw two of our kids on Christmas day but the others, we’ve got three grown up children with grandchildren, we haven’t seen them since August or September.”

"Everybody in the country is going through it. It's tough. They're local and we see them on Zoom or FaceTime. We've been one of these families where we've stuck to the rules.”

Throughout the pandemic, David and Sally have kept in touch with the masses of online followers who kept up with their journey on the Diamond Princess. As a diabetic, David has been posting healthy cooking recipes online to help pass the time.

  • David and Sally Abel have been keeping in touch with their friends across the world using Zoom and YouTube during the pandemic

“Ordinary people have been following our story from across the world,” David said.

“We have Americans, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. Every Sunday since then, we have an hour and a half live session with those who want to join us.

“They share their stories of the pandemic, and we share ours. We normally get anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 people watching our videos."

“We are making the most of our time,” Sally said. “I miss going out for a coffee and seeing friends. But the two of us in the kitchen wasn’t something you heard of before Covid - but David still doesn’t clean up after himself”. 

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