HBO Doc ‘The Last Cruise’ Gives Insight Into Nightmarish Covid-19 Outbreak

In the first few minutes of The Last Cruise, a new HBO documentary directed by Hannah Olson, the skies are clear, the waters blue, and aboard the Diamond Princess, aerobics classes involving hundreds are in full swing. The date is January 20, 2020, and the cruise ship has just set sail on a tour of Southeast Asia that will allow its 2,500+ passengers to explore cities like Hong Kong, Keelung, and Okinawa against the resplendent backdrop of the Lunar Year. Media reports of a mysterious virus circulating in China bleed in occasionally, but not enough to disrupt the ongoing festivities or dampen the enthusiasm shared by passengers and crew alike.

The ebullient atmosphere of the film takes a sharp turn when the Diamond Princess returns to Yokohama Port the evening of February 3. Though passengers are scheduled to disembark the following morning, preliminary medical screenings reveal that Covid-19—at the time still without an official name—has been detected on the ship, effectively forcing everyone aboard into a 14-day quarantine. Using cellphone footage captured by the guests and crew members themselves as its primary source material, the film invites viewers to witness the downward spiral of the Diamond Princess into mayhem through their eyes, turning a disaster of near-mythic proportions into an intimate account of survival, tragedy, and inequality.

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Originally published on Forbes (April 6, 2021)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.