Ruby Princess logged 158 cases of illness before passengers disembarked without coronavirus testing

The 2,700 passengers were assessed as ‘very low risk’ but six cases have been linked to cruise ship since it docked in Sydney

The Ruby Princess cruise ship, which docked in Sydney this week and has been linked to six confirmed Australian coronavirus cases, had previously logged 158 instances of illness onboard, according to a News Corp report.

Almost 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark from the ship at Circular Quay in Sydney on Thursday, before NSW Health had conducted testing for coronavirus among passengers who had been unwell.

The Ruby Princess was one of four cruise ships that had been allowed an exemption to an Australia-wide 30-day ban on foreign ships, and authorities made the decision to allow passengers to disembark after assessing there was a “very low risk” of coronavirus.

That testing of patient swabs found four passengers with the Covid-19 virus. All passengers are now required to self-isolate for 14 days.

The ship is also linked to two cases of the coronavirus in the Northern Territory.

As the New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard on Saturday defended his government’s compliance regime for cruise ships, the Australian reported cases of sickness had been logged on the Ruby Princess when it left Sydney for New Zealand with 4,000 people on board on March 8.

The Australian said 158 sickness cases had been logged in a government portal used to monitor the condition of cruise ship passengers, but that an email from the ship’s master to the Port Authority of NSW on 8 March had stated there were “no ill passengers or crew on board”.

Facing reporters on Saturday, Hazzard said that in hindsight he would have waited for coronavirus test results before allowing passengers to disembark.

“If I had my opportunity to have my two bob’s worth, with the benefit of what we now know about those … people I’d have said yeah, maybe we should hold them on the ship,” he said.

“The state government of NSW has already had a very strict compliance regime. NSW Health informs me that NSW is going over and above the national guidelines.”

Vicky Sheppeard from NSW Health said testing for coronavirus could not be done on board.

“With the Ruby Princess we did a risk assessment as we’ve done for all ships that come in and our assessment was that it was a low risk, there was a low rate of respiratory illness on the ship.

“Because the swabs were available … and out of an abundance of caution we did decide to double check and run those tests through our lab.”


Ben Smee

The GuardianTramp

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