'Extremely concerning' new coronavirus outbreak emerges

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

Six crew members in a ship docked in Western Australia have tested positive to coronavirus.

WA Premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Tuesday seven crew members from the Al Kuwait live export ship were tested for COVID-19 as it docked in Fremantle on Friday.

“Six have tested positive, all males, and are being moved off the ship to a Perth hotel for quarantine purposes,” Mr McGowan said.

“This is a fast evolving situation today involving WA Health, West Australian Police, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the Fremantle Port, as well as the Australian Border Force and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

“For the time being, the remaining 42 crew members, who I am advised are currently well, will remain onboard the ship and will be monitored and undergo health assessments as required.”

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan says six members of a ship docked in Fremantle have coronavirus. Source: AAP (file pic)

The premier believes more crew members may have the virus.

“This is an extremely concerning situation that we find ourselves in,” he said.

“I thought these kinds of situations were behind us. It goes to show that strong border controls are important as we continue to handle this worldwide health crisis.”

Mr McGowan said a Fremantle Port worker wearing PPE went on board the ship on Friday to help steer the ship into port “as per the usual process”.

That worker, and any of their contacts, have all been instructed to self-isolate.

Health Minister Roger Cook added the outbreak shows “we are not free from this virus”.

“There are still people getting sick and we are still at risk. We cannot be careful enough,” he said.

WA only learned through ‘word of mouth’

Mr McGowan said Australian Border Force were told of one crew member with a high temperature on Friday along with three other crew members showing “similar symptoms”.

But it wasn’t until Sunday that the Fremantle Port Authority learned of this, Mr McGowan said by “word of mouth” from a worker at the port.

“This information was then reported through the usual channels and now we find ourselves in this situation,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told the Senate Covid Committee he only became aware of the cases on board the ship at an Australian Health Protection Principal Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles told the ABC rhe Federal Government has a case to answer for.

“The Federal Government must stand up and answer what happened here, what they knew, before they allowed this ship to make port and what the plan is,” he said.

"We need to be hearing from them straight away. It it's fine to hear from government ministers on the good days, but when there is a difficult issue like this you see them often missing in action.

“Now is a time we need an explanation. I can understand the sense of disappointment, if not anger which is felt by those in Western Australia."

Mr McGowan said he doesn’t “want to point fingers at this point in time”.

No repeat of Ruby Princess, premier says

When asked if this was a case similar to the Ruby Princess debacle in NSW, Mr McGowan clarified none of the 48 crew members were allowed off the Al Kuwait.

“They've been tested,” he said.

“Those people who are found positive are now in quarantine. Health is currently working with the remainder of the crew to work out what we do.

“Our preference, of course, is for the ship to sail as soon as possible but obviously, we need to ensure appropriate cleaning and all that sort of thing is done first.”

Last month, the premier dubbed cruise ship coronavirus outbreaks as “one of the greatest frustrations” of his life as the Artania, a German ship, was docked in a WA port.

“The last two weeks dealing with this has been incredibly difficult but it has been incredibly difficult for everyone,” he said in April.

“I'm not trying to make this political. I just want urgency at a Commonwealth matter to deal with it and get it away.”

Sheep remain in limbo

The Al Kuwait was set to take sheep for export before June 1.

But Mr McGowan said those sheep will remain in Baldivis “due to biosecurity regulations”.

The outbreak comes as WA prepares to reopen almost all intrastate borders in time for this weekend's WA Day public holiday.

The restrictions will lift on Friday, but the Kimberley region, parts of the East Pilbara and the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku will remain off limits to protect vulnerable remote indigenous communities.

The areas, including the tourism hotspot Broome, have been declared federal biosecurity areas.

The state government has applied to the Commonwealth to have the declarations lifted on June 5, a fortnight earlier than anticipated.

with AAP

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