Australian health officials have come under heavy criticism in an official investigation into the coronavirus outbreak from Ruby Princess cruise ships.
The investigation revealed “serious errors” on the part of New South Wales Health in handling suspected cases on board.
The 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney in March without sufficient screening. Over 100 of them felt bad.
A total of 914 were subsequently tested positive. Twenty-two died.
The ship, carrying mostly Australian passengers, had taken an 11-day cruise from Sydney to New Zealand and back when docked on March 19.
Passengers – some coughing and stammering – were allowed to leave the ship at Sydney Harbor, to take trains, buses and even overseas flights back home.
But despite officials’ fears, the virus did not spread far beyond those on board.
Excluding a cluster in the island state of Tasmania that spread through a hospital, only 34 people in Australia caught the virus through secondary transmission.
But it was the worst coronavirus episode in Australia before the current lockdown in Victoria.
what are the results?
The board of inquiry said all passengers with “acute respiratory illness” or “flu-like illness” should have been tested for Covid-19, according to new guidelines released on March 10.
“NSW Health should have ensured that cruise ships were aware of the change in the definition of a ‘suspected case’ for Covid-19 made on March 10,” its report said.
“This would have resulted in the identification of such cases on the Ruby Princess. 101 people were in the suspect case definition on March 18 and 120 when the ship docked. ”
The investigation describes them as “serious errors of NSW Health”.
He also describes as “inexcusable” the failure to immediately obtain the results of the coronavirus swab tests carried out on March 19 – the day the ship docked.
The decision of a group of experts from New South Wales Health to classify the Ruby Princess as “low risk” is condemned as “inexplicable because unjustifiable”.
A March 17 directive meant that all passengers on ships disembarking after arriving from another country would have to self-isolate for 14 days once ashore.
The NSW government, according to the report, “should have arranged suitable accommodation for all passengers who were not residents of the state”.
Passengers were wrongly informed that once disembarked they could travel elsewhere, according to the investigation, despite having come into contact with a case of Covid-19.
Although the advisory was corrected by NSW Health on March 21, it was too late to prevent many onward trips, “including some passengers who were showing symptoms during transit.”
The report makes several recommendations, but says mistakes and failures in decision-making have already been widely recognized by the panel and NSW Health.
There are no “systemic” failures to be solved and those involved recognize “that they would do things differently if they still had time.”
What was the reaction?
New South Wales Head of Government Gladys Berejiklian said she would read the report over the weekend before responding.
Ruby Princess owner Carnival Corp said the report confirmed his position that none of his employees had misled authorities.
“During our more than 20 years in Australia, we have always sought to cooperate honestly and professionally with public officials in accordance with the regulatory environment,” he said.