Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology at Deakin University and a leading commentator of COVID throughout the pandemic, says she does not view cruise ships as a major driver of COVID transmission.

I don’t think it will be a major driver of our community transmission. I know there is concern in remote communities, but equally it’s the trouble when for these communities this is probably their biggest tourist intake.

“You only need a seeding event to happen – you know if one person brings the virus to Broome and it came by bus. It doesn’t matter if someone else brings the virus to Broome and it came by ship.

At the end of the day, if the virus takes off in that community, the virus is there anyway. So it’s not like you have zero risk without cruise ships is my point.

“As long as you’ve got connections, people coming in from other areas where they’re likely to have been exposed to any of these variants, then you’ve got that exposure to the virus anyway.

Removing cruise ships reduces that fractionally, not very much at all.”

Ms Bennett’s comments come as the Majestic Princess arrived in Sydney over the weekend with over 800 cases of Covid onboard. She returned to Sydney from a 12-night cruise to New Zealand and passengers who tested negative were allowed to disembark.

Speaking to reporters shortly before 9am, Carnival Australia president Marguerite Fitzgerald said that in the “vicinity” of 800 COVID-19 cases had been recorded on the itinerary and the majority were guests with a small number of cream members.

She said all cases were either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

Those who had tested negative were allowed off the ship first, followed by the positive passengers on a deck-by-deck basis through a separate door and have been told to not take public transport home.

Ms Fitzgerald said that the elevated number of cases, halfway through the voyage prompted mass testing of everybody as per the guidelines.

“Every single person who has not already tested positive is tested again. I believe it was done in their cabins, but then they report their tests and show their results.”

For passengers who have tested positive, Princess has advised those affected of the next steps.

“To help all our guests return home, we are working with all guests who have tested positive to COVID-19 to assist them with accessing private transport and accommodation to complete their isolation period,” she said.

“As they are getting off, they have advised how they will be returning home.”

Ms Bennett reinforces that while media coverage has focused on big ships potentially bringing COVID into small communities, the virus could be just as likely to arrive from anywhere else.

The other side is part of the media recently has been about small towns having a ship arrive and the view that everyone’s infectious.

“However, if there is COVID on the ship and people are isolating in their cabins, who have been picked up in testing and so on, it shouldn’t be a much greater risk that people who tested negative on the ship before going on as shore visit, have the virus more than someone who’s driven up from Perth or a local person.”

“The virus is now everywhere in the world…it can come from anywhere.”

Also important stresses Ms Bennett is that due to cruise ships actually maintaining such stringent health protocols, when carried out properly, this can actually make cruising safer than other holidays.

Most places now don’t have screening as much as cruise ships do.

“The risk is you’ve got essentially asymptomatic infection and are spreading it who don’t know, but if they started to see symptomatic people onboard a week into the cruise and start to suspect there’s other infections they don’t know about, that’s when they can do more active screening on ships.”

“The other side of all this of course, if you happen to get on a cruise and everybody’s done the right thing and they haven’t got on with symptoms and they’ve reported symptoms on the cruise and none of them have tested positive for COVID, you could be in the safest place. Because you’re travelling with a group of people and no one happens to have COVID and it’s safer than being in a hotel onshore. “

On whether media coverage surrounding these events is fair Ms Bennett says:

“Cruise ships are very well studied for outbreaks, because they’re a captive audience and people have paid for the event. If you look on land, you’ll find an unusual number of foodborne disease outbreaks at weddings, or most foodborne disease probably happens in the home, but you don’t analyse 50 million outbreaks, you just look at the big ones. 

So I think there’s a bias in how we study outbreaks.

“With COVID, a lot was learnt from early outbreaks on cruise ships that was actually informative about we manage these communities and not saying that cruise ships are out of the spectrum of risk, there are equivalent settings such as island resorts. There are other settings that are equivalent that we don’t hear talked about the same way.”

Cruise Passenger has been inundated with stories of those currently cruising on ships that have been portrayed as “plagued with COVID”.

Michelle Armstong wrote: “We have just finished our trip from Hawaii to Brisbane on Quantum on the Seas as a relocation tour ,so we flew to hawaii to join. I cant say enough about how wonderful our trip was.

“The staff were great from the waiters in all 13 restaurants to our room attendant Wentao on deck 9, every time we came back from Dinner we had a wee animal on our bed to giving us an extra kettle with coffe and teas.If we had an afternoon lie down he would knock on the door as say I ‘l come back later.

“The whole ship was so clean it was being washed down the whole time and we had to wishy washy our hands before getting into large restaurant.”

Pat Hardwood wrote: “Just finished the 18 day cruise from Hawaii to Brisbane and can’t speak highly enough of the staff on board Quatum of the Seas. We didn’t get Covid and were aware there were some cases on board.

“Staff were cleaning everything everywhere on a regular basis. Felt safer than in the local supermarket.”

Peter Forbes wrote: “My wife & I have just returned home to NSW from a 26 night cruise aboard the Majestic Princess from Los Angeles to Sydney. We had a wonderful, unforgettable cruise, the staff were great and the food was fantastic!

“Yes, there were at times up to 100 plus Covid19 cases who were in quarantine which, considering the number of people on the ship in quite close quarters with each other was very minimal. The crew were constantly wiping & cleaning everything and as far as I could see the cruise line kept a very good lid on the number of cases, we couldn’t have been happier the way everything was handled & cannot wait till we cruise again!”

Even John Ducan, whose wife was forced to isolate says the situation couldn’t have been handled better.

“We are currently on Island Princess in the Mediterranean and my wife is currently isolated in our cabin with Covid. The ships staff are going out of their way to minimise our inconvenience – meals delivered to our cabin, regular testing, FCC of cruise days lost, etc all at no cost to us.

“If we had to get Covid, cannot think of a better place to get it. Meals delivered and on tap medical assistance is better than being at home.”