More than 400 coronavirus cases – 10% of Australia’s total – are from Ruby Princess cruise ship

Exclusive: At least 440 passengers from the liner have fallen ill since being allowed to disembark without checks in Sydney

There are more than 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus across Australia from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, according to state health departments.

As of Monday, at least 440 passengers across six states and two territories had tested positive for Covid-19 after disembarking from the cruise ship, which docked twice in Sydney in March.

In a move the NSW health minister later admitted was a mistake, 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark without checks from NSW Health on 19 March, with many boarding flights interstate. Another boatload of passengers disembarked on 8 March.

There are now more cases of Covid-19 from the Ruby Princess outside NSW than within the state.

At least five of the 19 deaths so far attributed to Covid-19 in Australia have been passengers from the ship.

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On Monday, the respective state health authorities revealed there were 211 cases from Ruby Princess in NSW, 71 in South Australia, 70 in Queensland, 43 in Western Australia, 22 in the ACT, 18 in Victoria and two in the Northern Territory.

Tasmania had three confirmed cases as of Tuesday 24 March, but has not provided an update since.

This means Ruby Princess passengers account for a tenth of all national cases of coronavirus (4,512 as of Tuesday afternoon), and a quarter of all cases in South Australia – the single biggest cluster of cases in that state.

On 21 March, the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, admitted it had been a mistake to allow the passengers to disembark on 19 March without testing.

On 27 March, NSW Health said it would stop “providing any more national or interstate figures, just our NSW figures”, despite the rise in interstate cases.

On the ship’s earlier 8 March arrival, more than 360 passengers were checked by NSW Health officers and at least nine tested for Covid-19 – but all passengers were allowed to disembark, and new passengers allowed to board before the test results were returned.

Earlier, a spokesman for Princess Cruises said of the 19 March arrival: “Our onboard medical team was rigorous in its treatment of some guests who reported flu-like symptoms, and these guests were isolated.

“The ship reported these cases to NSW Health, which in turn requested swabs to be provided following the ship’s arrival in Sydney, some of which subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.”

NSW Health said earlier: “No cases of Covid-19 had been identified by doctors onboard before docking.”

A Queensland Health spokesman said: “All other passengers have been given clear direction from Queensland Health to quarantine themselves for 14 days and phone ahead before attending their GP or attend a local fever clinic should they develop symptoms.”

•This article was amended on 1 April to clarify the the disembarkation of the passengers on March 8 and on March 19.


Naaman Zhou

The GuardianTramp

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