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José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen Is Feeding the Quarantined Coronavirus Cruise Ship

It’s a departure from the norm for World Central Kitchen, which typically services those affected by larger natural disasters and human rights violations

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Chef José Andrés’s nonprofit disaster relief organization World Central Kitchen is now preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for passengers and crew members who remain quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. WCK’s “Chef Relief” team has been at the port since last week, hastily establishing a field operation with oven and refrigerator trucks to serve fresh meals to the Diamond Princess.

The ship, operated by Princess Cruises, has been quarantined since February 4. Onboard, 542 cases of COVID-19 have been identified among passengers and crew members. In a statement, Princess Cruises explained that the Diamond Princess would be “integrating WCK meals into our food service options.” WCK calls its work a supporting role.

“On behalf of all the crew around the world, we would like to say thank you for your unconditional support,” a Princess Cruises representative writes, addressing WCK. “Your hard work is much appreciated by all of us.”

Onboard, Diamond Princess passengers have been instructed to stay in their cabins; meals are dropped at their doors by crew. Passengers have had internet and telephone access, plus new offerings from the cruise line due to the “unusual circumstances,” like added movies and free calisthenics videos. Some passengers, including 328 Americans, have been evacuated from the ship already, and Japan plans to release 500 more passengers from the quarantined vessel tomorrow.

A few Diamond Princess passengers have even shared images of their meals onboard the ship, which don’t look half bad.

“Don’t believe the honeymooners who would rather be in an American hospital,” Matthew Smith jokes. “You might have to drag me off the ship when the quarantine ends.”

WCK director of field operations Sam Bloch remarked in a video that the Diamond Princess relief effort was an unusual one for the nonprofit, which usual offers services in the wake of natural disasters. Andrés launched WCK in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for example, and in response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, its chefs fed more than three million people (Andrés chronicled its work in Puerto Rico in the book We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time).

“It’s definitely a different situation for us,” Bloch said of the Diamond Princess effort. “Then again, every disaster, every immigration crisis, every situation that we address is a unique and a different situation.” WCK has provided aid to the victims of man-made problems, too, like furloughed workers during the U.S. government shutdown in January 2019 and refugees awaiting asylum decisions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Diamond Princess departed Japan on January 20 for a two-week cruise, carrying 3,711 passengers and crew. But when a cruise passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong after five days onboard tested positive for COVID, the Japanese Ministry of Health directed that the ship remain under quarantine when it returned to Yokohama.

Some health professionals have criticized the choice to quarantine the Diamond Princess. But last week, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization told the New York Times that the organization agreed with Japan’s handling of the outbreak. The ship’s cases of COVID-19 make it the largest site of the virus outside China, where it originated. There, cases now number 70,000, with 1,772 reported deaths according to the World Health Organization.