Friday, 18 Sep 2020

Coronavirus: Probe blames NSW health officials for spread of infection from ship

SYDNEY • Health officials in Australia’s most populous state made “unjustifiable” and “inexcusable” mistakes which allowed cruise ship passengers with Covid-19 to disembark in central Sydney, an inquiry said yesterday.

Carnival Corporation’s Ruby Princess was, for a time, Australia’s biggest single source of infection, with more than 600 cases and over 20 deaths linked directly to those passengers.

Some 2,700 passengers, 120 of whom were feeling unwell, were allowed to leave the ship on March 19, helping to spread the virus across the country and internationally.

New South Wales Health failed to ensure that the ship knew of heightened screening for the virus or that sick passengers were isolated in their cabins, a report by the inquiry concluded.

It also failed to get quick test results for unwell passengers before they disembarked.

“The delay in obtaining test results for the swabs taken from the Ruby Princess on the morning of March 19 is inexcusable.

“Those swabs should have been tested immediately,” the inquiry, led by high-profile lawyer Bret Walker, said in the report.

The “decision to assess the risk as ‘low risk’, meaning in effect ‘do nothing’, is as inexplicable as it is unjustifiable”, it added.

NSW Health directed media inquiries to State Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who said in a statement she would read the report at the weekend before responding.

The 315-page report did not make formal recommendations and stopped short of calling for government resignations.

Carnival Corporation said the report confirmed that none of its employees misled the Australian authorities, which was “of great importance to us because it goes to the integrity of our people”.

The Ruby Princess had completed a Sydney-New Zealand round trip. Around two-thirds of the passengers were Australians.

The report was published as neighbouring Victoria state, now home to Australia’s biggest outbreak and which has put its capital under a hard lockdown, recorded 14 more deaths yesterday – one involving a man in his 20s, the country’s youngest fatality so far.

The state logged 372 new cases, a jump of nearly 100 from the previous day, which was the lowest in more than three weeks.

“We will see a levelling-off of hospitalisations for community cases in the next couple of weeks and the same for deaths,” said Victoria chief health officer Brett Sutton.

Australia’s coronavirus tally stands at 22,739 infections and 375 deaths, most of them in Victoria.

New South Wales reported nine new cases yesterday.


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