Authorities are desperately trying to track down thousands of cruise ship passengers after it was revealed a further four cruise ships arrived in Sydney with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The revelation follows news on Friday the Ruby Princess allowed passengers to disembark in Sydney before it was confirmed four people contracted the virus.
Like the Ruby Princess, in all cases passengers were allowed to disembark without being tested.
Two of the cases happened on two separate journeys of the Voyager of the Seas, with the other two cases coming on the Ovation of the Seas and the Celebrity Solstice.
Passengers on the vessels, as well as anyone who has disembarked in Australia on a cruise ship, are being advised to self-isolate.
On Saturday afternoon, NSW Health’s Dr Vicky Sheppard said swabs were taken on board the Ruby Princess for the infection but they could only be tested in a laboratory in Sydney on the ship’s arrival.
She said despite not receiving the test’s results, passengers were allowed to disembark as NSW Health’s team of experts deemed the apparent threat as “low risk”.
Passengers who disembarked the ship on Thursday found out a day later they could have come into contact with people infected with coronavirus.
Three of the infected were passengers and the other a crew member who remains in isolation on the ship.
Last week, PM Scott Morrison declared a 30-day ban on all foreign cruise ships docking in the country, but made an exemption for four already travelling to Australia, including the Ruby Princess, according to the ABC.
Passengers ‘shuffled off the ship’
Health authorities are now urging the almost 3800 passengers and crew on the Ruby Princess to self-isolate, including Adelaide residents Kim, Bernie and Phil, who on Saturday expressed their disappointment with how they learned they could be at risk.
“At about 2pm yesterday (Friday, South Australia time) we received a text to say that passengers had confirmed cases of COVID-19. By that time, we were already home in Adelaide,” Kim told The Today Show.
Kim confirmed more than 24 hours had passed before they were informed of the cases, and the potential they could also be carrying the virus.
“We are still quite incensed that the NSW health department let us off the ship if they knew that some people had been tested,” she said.
“The fact that we got off the ship, picked up our luggage and pretty much got deposited on the sidewalk outside of the terminal so quickly - it’s beggars belief.”
Bernie told the program the trio were surprised at how quickly they were “shuffled off the ship”, and even more so at not having to undergo any form of health screening on their departure.
“We didn’t appear to be tested. It was a breeze straight through,” he said.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday said it was possible other people on board had COVID-19.
Sixty-three per cent of the ship's 2647 passengers were Australian, 20 per cent were United States residents and the rest were from a variety of other countries.
Ninety-eight of the 1148 crew also disembarked the ship and have left for their home countries, while the rest remain in isolation on the ship off the NSW coast.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said all passengers had been contacted by text and email with authorities next making follow-up phone calls.
She said the cruise ship company would take care of the Ruby Princess crew.
"They have doctors on board the ship, they have ICU facilities, they have care," Dr Chant said.
Princess Cruises said all occupants with flu-like symptoms and their cabin mates had been in isolation on board the ship, minimising contact with other guests or crew.
It was announced earlier on Friday that an 81-year-old NSW woman had died after contracting coronavirus - bringing the NSW death toll to six and the national tally to seven.
The woman died on Thursday night after close contact with a confirmed case linked to Ryde Hospital.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has confirmed the state's 2020-21 budget will be deferred to later in the year as the state focuses on safeguarding health and sustaining livelihoods, echoing an earlier announcement by the prime minister.
The state's Planning Minister Rob Stokes, meanwhile, has overridden regulations preventing 24-hour deliveries of stock to supermarkets amid panic buying.
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