NSW Health officials are being blamed for failing to halt the disembarkation of Ruby Princess passengers last week, despite tests being carried out on guests, twelve of which proved positive for coronavirus.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard is reported in The Sunday Telegraph to have said: “With the benefit of what we now know, I would have said hold them on board the ship.”

The Ruby Princess returned from New Zealand last Thursday with 2,650 passengers and over 1,000 crew on board. The cruise line tested 13 people for COVID-19 on board the vessel after her arrival, and handed swabs to NSW Health officials.

Princess Cruises later revealed the guests had exhibited flu symptoms during the voyage and were isolated on board the ship. NSW Health Department is reported to have considered the Princess ship “low risk”.

Princess Cruises complied with all requests from health and port authorities, and had radioed ahead to tell them of what was happening on board the vessel. NSW Health officials set the rules for disembarkation.

“Three of the confirmed cases were passengers who disembarked from the ship after it docked at Circular Quay yesterday morning,” said the statement.

  • One, a resident of Tasmania, is still in NSW being assessed at a Sydney hospital.
  • One was taken unwell directly from the ship to hospital. It is not unusual for cruise ship passengers, many of whom are elderly, to be disembarked directly from cruise ships to hospital.
  • One presented to a Sydney hospital after disembarkation for testing.
  • The fourth confirmed case is a crew member who is in isolation on board the ship. , Quarantine of other crew on board is underway in consultation with the on board medical team.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday said: “Our big concern, the very big concern, is that those people came off the cruise with no knowledge of COVID-19 actually being on their ship.”

He went on: “If they think that it is not necessary to do the 14 days, and if they think that it is OK to be wandering around, the clear message from me as NSW Health Minister is ‘No, it’s not’.

“Put yourself into immediate quarantine for 14 days, self isolate in your home or normal place of residence or wherever you may be and start taking serious note of your own health.”

According to the Telegraph, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed the Border Force Commissioner had now contacted NSW Health to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities.

Of the three confirmed cases, two were passengers and are currently receiving treatment in the dedicated COVID-19 intensive care ward at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Both are in their seventies, and one is seriously ill. The other case was a crew member who remains on board. One other guest is “under review” in Tasmania.

There were 1,100 crew and 2,650 passengers on the ship, which docked in Sydney yesterday after a cruise to New Zealand.

Princess Cruises issued a statement later saying: “We are working closely with NSW Health after the authority advised that two guests and one crew member on Ruby Princess, which returned to Sydney yesterday, had tested positive for COVID-19.

“They were among a group of guests and crew members who had reported flu-like symptoms during the cruise, which had been regarded as low-risk. All, along with their cabin occupants, had been in isolation on board the ship, which minimised any contact with other guests or crew.

“NSW Health had asked for swabs for this group to enable testing procedures on the ship’s arrival and we assisted fully in this regard. NSW Health has also advised that one other guest has subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 and another is under review.”

“We strongly support NSW Health’s call for all guests who disembarked Ruby Princess to follow to the letter the requirement for 14 days self-isolation. As the health authority has noted we made guest contact details available to allow quick follow up and provided guests with Australian Government advice for self-isolation.

Ruby Princess had returned to Sydney in accordance with the Australian Government’s arrangements for cruise ships to return and disembark guests at the ports where their cruises began.

Ruby Princess departed from Sydney on March 8 on a scheduled 13-night cruise to New Zealand, which was cut short when new federal travel arrangements for cruise ships were announced.”

The statement continued:  “In accordance with new requirements, the guests who disembarked yesterday must complete 14 days of self-isolation having arrived from a foreign port. We support NSW Health in encouraging guests to follow the self isolation requirements to the letter and seek medical advice should they experience flu-like symptoms.

“We are supporting NSW Health’s response in the following ways:
·        Providing passenger contact details for follow up and health advice
·        Taking proactive action on board Ruby Princess to safeguard crew health
·        Carrying out deep cleansing of the ship heightening already high standards”

A passenger from Newcastle was on board Ruby Princess with three other family members. She received an email from Princess Cruises this morning and her family is at home in isolation.

“It is what it is. There is nothing we can do about it. We had an amazing cruise, are very pleased to be home and will do as instructed now for the next 14 days,” says the passenger.

“Princess Cruises were very thorough and kept everyone informed and made it very easy.”

The passenger says that according to the email, the 14-day quarantine starts from today, up to and including April 2. The new guidelines reset the clock of the isolation period.

Another Ruby Princess passenger Pauline shared that she was told to self isolate for 14 days from the date of the last port which was Napier last Sunday during disembarkation.

“Everyone was handed paperwork on this and the direction was repeated by the Commodore and we were handed information after going through Customs. The Ruby Princess handled it well and professionally, however am devastated that there are confirmed cases on board,” says Pauline.

Meanwhile Seven News reports NSW Health is contacting thousands of other passengers after cases on four more cruises have been confirmed. Passengers who sailed on the Ovation and Voyager of the Seas along with the Celebrity Solstice have been affected.

A Canadian on an itinerary leaving Sydney on March 11 and returning on March 18 aboard Ovation of the Seas ship was found to have contracted the virus. Passengers on board the Ovation have also received an email update from NSW Health today saying: “NSW Health is now aware of eight people who were on board who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.”

Passengers who were on board are now asked to remain in self-isolation for 14-days from the day they disembarked, up to the morning April 1, 2020.

The ship left Sydney on March 11 and returned on March 18, not stopping anywhere overseas. We are awaiting further comment from Royal Caribbean.

A woman in her 20s has been confirmed after travelling on Voyager of the Seas from Sydney on February 25 and returning on March 7.

Also on Voyager but on a separate cruise, a 66-year-old man from South Australia was confirmed to have the virus. This cruise left Sydney on March 7 and visited islands in the South Pacific.

On Celebrity Solstice, a male passenger who docked in Sydney on March 20, was confirmed to have the virus.