The disastrous decision to allow coronavirus-infected passengers to disembark from a cruise ship into the community had sparked recriminations about who was responsible, with one report saying New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian had put the blame on Australian Border Force officials.
Last Thursday, 2,647 passengers from the Ruby Princess were allowed to disembark in Sydney despite many reports of flu-like symptoms among those on board.
Since then, 133 of the passengers have been diagnosed with coronavirus and a 78-year-old female passenger has died.
A report in The Australian, citing ‘several state government MPs’, said Ms. Berejiklian had told a party-room meeting of Liberals that the Australian Border Force ultimately made the decision to allow the passengers ashore.
On March 19, around all passengers were allowed to disembark the Ruby Princess in Sydney without being tested for COVID-19
The Master of the Ruby Princess allegedly told the ABF there wasn’t any sick people on board, despite there being an ambulance on standby to take a passenger – who later died – to hospital after docking
The passengers were classified as ‘low risk’ by health officials on arrival despite the ship’s doctor having taken 13 swabs to test for influenza on ill passengers, and there being cases of respiratory illness.
New South Wales Health officials took the 13 flu swabs for COVID-19 testing but no results had been returned by the time passengers disembarked.
The Master of the Ruby Princess allegedly told the ABF there were not any sick people on board, despite there being an ambulance on standby at the dock to take the passenger who later died to hospital.
The report in The Australian said Ms Berejiklian had claimed ABF officials ordered NSW Health to release the passengers.
‘She said it wasn’t our failing – it was the feds,’ an MP at the meeting was quoted to say by The Australian, which also reported that a a second MP had described Ms Berejiklian’s response as an ‘a**e-covering exercise’.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a confidential partyroom meeting the agency should take the blame for further spreading coronavirus around the country
Ms Berejiklian claims ABF officials ordered NSW Health to release the passengers because no one was showing flu symptoms, despite 13 guests undergoing flu tests onboard
Coronavirus cases linked to the ship have since emerged in Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison had put the onus of responsibility on the New South Wales government.
‘The chief health officer of NSW said this was a low risk,’ Mr Morrison said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said this was effectively blaming the NSW Government.
‘There’s a pattern there of him blaming NSW and (Premier) Gladys Berejiklian’s government,’ Mr Albanese told reporters in Canberra.
‘The truth is that the federal government are responsible for the entry into Australia.’
Ruby Princess cruise ship passenger Greg Butler (left) is currently in ICU in Tamworth Hospital with coronavirus. He and partner Robin Russ (right) caught a six-hour train to Tamworth after disembarking the ship at Sydney Harbour last Thursday
Meanwhile, a passenger who walked off the Ruby Princess vessel without any health checks or warnings by authorities is now in intensive care unit after testing positive to the virus.
Greg Butler, 56, and his fiancee Robin Russ travelled for six hours on public transport to their hometown of Tamworth, in northeast NSW, and spent the next four days at home before Mr Butler felt unwell with ‘pins and needles’, a headache and cough.
He took himself to the doctor on Monday and was diagnosed with coronavirus.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 2,317
New South Wales: 1029
Western Australia: 175
South Australia: 170
Australian Capital Territory: 39
Northern Territory: 5
TOTAL CASES: 2,317
Ms Russ said both she and Mr Butler could not believe how easily they were allowed off the ship.
She said if there was even the slightest belief someone on the ship had coronavirus, they should have been locked onboard.
‘We were told we could get off and go home, take public transport or whatever we wanted, it was just ridiculous,’ Ms Russ said.
‘We got into Sydney Harbour at 2am and then took the light rail to central and a train from there.
‘By the next morning the government has got onto us to tell us to self-isolate, so they clearly knew someone had it.
‘We just can’t understand how they let us do that, and now we’re getting the blame for it.’