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A class action lawsuit against the Ruby Princess operators started on Wednesday, hearing evidence from the lead plaintiff, a retired police officer who nearly died from COVID.

But Carnival Corporation, the owner of Princess Cruises, told the court the world was in a different place when the ship sailed out of Sydney Harbour in March this year.

Nurse Susan Karpik who is the lead plaintiff and her husband, retired detective Henry Karpik allege they were healthy before boarding the Ruby Princess in Sydney on 8 March.

The Karpiks are one of 900 plaintiffs represented by Shine Laywers. Mr Karpik, who suffers from macular degeneration spent five weeks on a ventilator and almost two months at Wollongong Hospital after alleging he fell ill on the ship.

“At that point in time, leaving aside the retrospective scope, we were prepared to engage in activity which involved congregating in groups of the size that were involved in the Ruby Princess,” Carnival barrister David McLure SC said.

“As at 8 March 2020, the Prime Minister was talking about going along to see his beloved (Cronulla) Sharks play a match at a busy football stadium… that will be the thrust of the issue.”

Mr McLure told the court the women’s T20 cricket world cup final was also held around the same time at the MCG and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was again, encouraging people to attend.

“The Prime Minister was urging Australians to strain to break the world record for the number of people to attend a sporting event,” Mr McLure said.

Two days before the Ruby Princess sailed out of Sydney,  the Prime Minister was quoted in The Australian saying “unless you’ve got symptoms there’s no reason not to get out and get behind Australia”.

Ian Pike, SC for Mrs Karpik told the court that the couple caught the virus on the ship, sometime after it left Sydney.

“As a result of that, and as a result of all the other things (Mrs Karpik) observed and felt, she suffered significant distress and disappointment,” Mr Pike said.

Mr Karpik, by the fifth day of the cruise felt tired and weak. And by the ninth or the 10th day, was suffering from a dry cough, unexplained fever and was fatigued.

“After the cruise Mr Karpik was taken to hospital by ambulance, placed in a medically induced coma, incubated and ventilated,” the documents allege.

At one point in his four weeks of unconsciousness, doctors allegedly told Mrs Karpik her husband had just days to live.

“He almost died. He continues to suffer ongoing medical complications as a result. This has been, at the risk of understatement, extremely distressing for Mrs Karpik.”

Shine Laywers allege that the cruise industry by 8 March, had been placed on “red alert” after Carnival’s Diamond Princess was quarantined off the port of Yokohama in Japan.

“It is even more reprehensible that they continued to keep amenities such as bars and the nightclub open as they knew — at the highest levels of management — that the numbers of ‘suspect cases’ were going ‘berserk’ – or at any time they had ‘suspect cases’,” the statement of claims alleges.

“If they shut down some of the amenities while the numbers were going ‘berserk’ they might have lost revenue.”

The class action alleges Carnival breached consumer laws, were negligent and misleading or deceptive in their conduct of the Ruby Princess. The class action also alleges that by the time the cruise left Sydney heads, the operators knew more than 700 people had caught the virus from the Diamond Princess, and at least seven had died.

The operators knew, it’s alleged, of another outbreak on a third ship, the Grand Princess off the coast of the United States.

The court also heard eight lawsuits had been launched against Carnival in the United States on behalf of the 700-plus passengers who had purchased the tickets overseas.

Seven of those lawsuits remain active. Mr McClure said none have been granted class action status as their tickets included a “class action waiver” upon purchase.

Last month, the report from the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess was handed to the government and found NSW Health made “serious” and “inexcusable” errors in their decisions. One of which, allowing 2,700 passengers to disembark the ship despite more than 100 guests displaying symptoms of coronavirus and three testing positive the following day.

The Ruby Princess cluster resulted in 28 deaths and more than 1,000 infections nationwide.

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