Coronavirus in Australia: 26 infections from Ruby Princess contribute to largest daily rise in cases

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Backpacker parties in Bondi and the Ruby Princess cruise ship which docked in Circular Quay have been identified as key vectors in a record rise in Covid-19 infections in New South Wales, as Australia recorded its largest single-day increase since the outbreak began.

Victoria added 67 to take its total 296, Western Australia recorded 30, to bring its total to 120, Queensland 38 (259) and the ACT added 10 cases, more than doubling its total to 19.

Across Australia there are now 1,316 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 213 new cases in 24 hours. Seven people have died.

NSW now has 533 confirmed cases, Tasmania 17 and the Northern Territory five.

More than 2,700 people were allowed to disembark from the Ruby Princess at Sydney’s Circular Quay, despite more than 150 cases of illness being logged onboard. So far, 18 people from that ship have tested positive in NSW and a further eight in other states, including some who caught domestic flights across the country after disembarking.

NSW Health released statistics showing 97 new cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed in the state in the 24 hours to Saturday night. The total number of cases in NSW is 533, 40% of Australia’s total.

“Several new diagnoses of Covid-19 have been made in backpackers in the Bondi area,” NSW Health said in a statement.

“There were two recent parties that some of the cases attended where the cases may have acquired their infections. People who also attended these parties should be on alert for symptoms of Covid-19 and immediately isolate themselves if any symptoms develop.”

NSW Health cited the Boogie Wonderland party at Bucket List, on Bondi Beach, on the evening of Sunday 15 March, and a party at Club 77 in Darlinghurst, from midnight Sunday to 4am Monday.

Bondi Beach was the centre of global attention after more than 20,000 packed the beach on Friday in defiance of social distancing measures urged by health authorities and a ban from the federal government on all gatherings of more than 500 people.

In response, the NSW government closed the beach. Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches remained closed on Sunday with shorelines fenced off, and the lockout enforced by police.

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.

Passengers were allowed to go home, on condition they self-isolate for 14 days. Some flew on domestic flights, including to the Northern Territory. Now 18 passengers have tested positive for Covid-19.

The NSW health minister, Brad 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 Ruby Princess was carrying 2,647 passengers and 1,148 crew. The majority of the crew stayed on board to remain in isolation. The ship is currently at sea off the NSW coast, south of Sydney.

Four other cruise ships which docked in Sydney have also been linked to Covid-19 cases: Voyager of the Seas (two cases), which docked on 7 March and 18 March; the Ovation of the Seas (two cases), which docked on 18 March; and the Celebrity Solstice (one case reported in New Zealand), which docked on 20 March.

Sixty-nine people in Australia have recovered from a confirmed case of Covid-19.


Ben Doherty

The GuardianTramp

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