COVID-19 blame game: Who’s really at fault for the Ruby Princess fiasco

The Australian Border Force has laid blame on New South Wales Health for the mishandling of the Ruby Princess arrival in Sydney. 

Michael Outram, the ABF’s commissioner stated it was not the border control’s responsibility to extend health checks.

The NSW government however has insisted it is the federal authorities who are to blame after they categorised the cruise ship carrying 2,700 people as “low risk”.

The release of the passengers resulted in a major wave of 133 infections into Australian communities.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Cruisedaily (@cruisedaily) on Aug 18, 2019 at 12:12pm PDT

 The catastrophic mistake has resulted in politicians expressing outrage over the systematic failure to isolate the Ruby Princess passengers and its crew.

 

The ship docked in Sydney on March 19 and it had three passengers and one crew member who displayed flu-like symptoms and had been swabbed.

One passenger had been taken to hospital by via ambulance and passed away due to COVID-19.

However, passengers were allowed to disembark and make their way home, which included overseas flights. Each passenger was urged to self-isolate for 14 days.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Berejiklian said ABF officials and state colleagues had incorrectly advised NSW Health that the Ruby Princess was low risk.

The politician went on to say stopping transmission was a joint responsibility.

“Every single agency needs to take responsibility for our borders,” she said. “Whether it’s a ship at a port, whether it’s a planeload of people coming in from overseas. We’re still having thousands of people coming in on planes every single day.

“All authorities have to step up, including NSW Health, including all the other authorities involved.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Gladys Berejiklian (@gladysb) on Mar 23, 2020 at 9:50pm PDT

 “What is really imperative at this time, we realised, is strong communication between authorities and everybody stepping up.”

Dr Kerry Chant who is NSW’s chief health officer said in a statement that the ship had originally checked in at a Wellington dock in New Zealand and found no cases of COVID-19.

She went on to say NSW authorities had checked in on all the passengers of the Ruby Princess once they recognised coronavirus had been on the vessel.

Dr Chant assured reporters there was “no action that NSW Health could have taken to prevent those people acquiring the disease”, as they had acquired it on the ship. She said NSW Health were working hard to limit onward transmission, and that if there had been any “we would have deployed health teams.”

“Of course, with hindsight, we would have acted differently, had we known we had a Covid-positive cruise ship.”

Chant fiercely defended NSW Health letting passengers fly home overseas, as it was part of an agreed protocol to send them into self-isolation at home.

She said authorities are tracing of people sitting in rows around infected passengers was being conducted. 

Kristina Keneally who is the Labor’s spokeswoman on immigration said the Ruby Princess would be able to be traced back to many COVID-19 cases in Australia.

“We have now 133 passengers and counting from the Ruby Princess cruise ship that have tested positive for coronavirus,” she said.

“The Ruby Princess cruise ship coronavirus cases account for 10% of the cases in NSW. And, quite tragically, there has already been one death.

“They went into taxis and public transport, they interacted with friends and neighbours, they went to shops, they were allowed to travel across the country,” she said.

“It is gobsmacking that we are in this circumstance today. We need to ask, we need to demand to know how this happened and we need to ensure it does not happen again. The Australian government needs to get on top of this situation very quickly.” Topics

Outram’s timelines of interactions between the ship and NSW Health are as follows:

He said that ABF’s responsibilities went as far to checking passports and ensuring that customs regulations were complied with.

He said the federal Department of Agriculture was responsible for biosecurity checks.

“On the 17 March, 2020, NSW Health requested the following information from the Ruby Princess’s senior doctor: estimates of arrival into Sydney, a log of details of passengers and crew presenting with fever or acute respiratory symptoms or both, travel histories, and whether tests were conducted and the results,” Outram said.

“On March 18, at 9.39 am the senior doctor on the Ruby Princess notified the health department with the following: they had collected viral swabs for a few cases of febrile influenza, negative test, and that those people had been isolated. They also requested a transfer for other passengers who had unrelated illnesses.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Gladys Berejiklian (@gladysb) on Mar 22, 2020 at 3:38pm PDT

“On March 18 2020, at 5.17pm, they stated: ‘The NSW Health panel assessed the Ruby Princess as not requiring onboard health assessment in Sydney.’”

Outram said NSW Health had asked for Ruby Princess to send the 15 samples to a NSW Health lab for Covid-19 testing and to attach lab forms as required.

“NSW Health stated to the Ruby Princess, ‘You are free to disembark tomorrow. However, in accordance with the Australian government guidance, all passengers must go into self-isolation for 14 days,’” Outram said.

The ABF commissioner continued by saying that on the 18th of March, the Department of Agriculture was informed through Ruby Princess that a risk assessment had been conducted.

He also went on to say that the ship had been considered “low risk” – an assessment that is consistent with NSW Health’s version of events.

 “NSW Health decided not to board the vessel and attend, and that they had also given clearance for all passengers to disembark the vessel,” Outram said.

“That red light has just gone green. So, the vessel came into port on March 19.

“They felt the vessel was low risk and there was no need to attend the vessel, but our six officers wore masks and gloves nonetheless.”

This article originally appeared on Over60.