Hunt for 19 Ruby Princess passengers still missing


It’s been 10 days since the Ruby Princes docked in Sydney and allowed 2700 passengers on-board to scatter across the country.

To date, the decision to allow passengers to disembark – despite several suspected cases of coronavirus on-board – has been dubbed one of the biggest “disasters” of Australia’s handling of stopping the COVID-19 spread across the country.

Currently, the ship has had 162 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the passengers and four deaths.

On Sunday, South Australian officials made the announcement to close schools in the Barossa Valley region in response to a cluster of 34 cases in the area that are linked to two groups of tourists, one from Switzerland and one from the US. Sixty-eight of the 299 cases are linked to the Ruby Princess cruise ship.

Queensland recorded its first death of a passenger who had been on-board the ship on Sunday, a 75-year-old woman, bringing Australia’s death toll to 16.

RELATED: Follow the latest coronavirus updates here

Despite cruise passengers being contacted since March 19, there are still several at-risk people who are yet to be contacted by NSW Health.

In an interview last week, NSW Health director of communicable diseases Vicky Sheppeard said authorities had successfully contacted “at least 99 per cent” of the people on-board. However, ‘successful contact’ was initially determined as the department not receiving an email bounce back. According to the ABC, 19 people across the country are yet to be contacted by NSW Health.

“So the initial process was an email that didn’t bounce back,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“That was the initial measure to get information out to 3000 people very quickly. And that is now being reinforced by individual contact.”

News.com.au has contacted NSW Health for comment.

HOW DID PASSENGERS LEAVE THE SHIP?

Passengers who have left the ship say they were not told that anyone on-board presented any symptoms during the voyage.

Elisa McCafferty, an Australian woman who flew home to London with her husband immediately after disembarking the ship last Thursday, told the BBC nothing was said about anyone being sick on-board.

“It was a distinct lack of information coming through from Princess the entire time,” she said.

“I turned on my phone and I started getting all these notifications from people back in Australia saying ‘there’s been confirmed cases on the Ruby’.

“And I was just absolutely petrified. We had just been on two full flights – what if we had infected someone?”

Another passenger, Bill Beerens, who lives in Sydney, tested positive for the virus the day he disembarked.

“I think that they let us down,” Mr Beerens told the ABC.

“I do honestly believe that they (cruise ship management) knew what was going on and they just wanted us off the boat.”

HOW DID THE ‘DISASTER’ HAPPEN?

After setting off on an 11-day voyage on March 8, the ship was forced to return to Sydney early after a handful of passengers started to feel unwell with respiratory symptoms.

It is understood those who presented with an illness had swabs taken for COVID-19; however, other passengers were not informed.

As a result, thousands were allowed to leave the ship on March 19, travelling on-board public transport and onwards to other Australian states and even internationally.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan lashed NSW’s handling of the Ruby Princess cruise ship for allowing passengers to disembark in Sydney.

Mr McGowan told reporters on Sunday that while NSW had people coming off ships and able to roam in Sydney, his state managed the docking of MSC Magnifica into Fremantle quite differently.

“We managed the cruise ship very, very well so quite different to what happened in NSW,” Mr McGowan said.

Passengers claim they were not screened or even asked if they felt unwell before leaving the Ruby Princess, and those travelling back to international destinations were advised they could need to isolate upon returning home.

Within 24 hours of the ship docking and passengers getting off, the first three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed – two passengers and one crew member.



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