Australian News

Ruby Princess inquiry hears sick patient log not up to date

Many sick passengers with COVID-19 symptoms aboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship were not listed in a patient log given to government health authorities before they disembarked in Sydney, an inquiry has heard.

Had the names of those people displaying either acute respiratory illness or flu-like symptoms been sent to NSW Health one day before the notorious liner docked on March 19, it may have sparked a full on board screening.

“The log sent at 9.30am on 18 March was not up to date for acute respiratory disease or influenza-like illness at the time the ship docked. There is significance to that,” counsel assisting Richard Beasley SC said on Tuesday.

The probe into Australia’s worst coronavirus infection fiasco heard the ship had been graded ‘low risk’ by an expert NSW Health panel when nearly 2700 passengers disembarked, before COVID-19 test results for sick travellers came back.

A NSW assessment indicated 104 out of 3795 guests and crew – or 2.7 per cent of those on board – presented to the ship’s medical centre with acute respiratory disease.

But under state government protocols, a respiratory outbreak of at least one per cent of guests was an important criteria allowing a higher biosecurity risk rating which would have mandated health officers boarding the ship to conduct extensive screening.

Mr Beasley said the figure at the time of the ship’s arrival was “a significant degree higher”, while 36 passengers and crew had presented with flu-like symptoms before the ship docked – or 0.95 per cent. 

“By the 19th of March when the ship actually docked, the one per cent had been reached, although that data was not before the health assessment panel when their determination was made,” he said.

Mr Beasley said 13 COVID-19 swabs were taken on March 19 and three people later tested positive for the disease.

“One of those tests was from a passenger who was not on the acute respiratory diseases log sent by the ship’s doctor to NSW Health at 9.30am the day before,” he said.

The ship’s chief doctor Ilse Von Watzdorf forgot to send an updated log ­detailing which guests had been tested for coronavirus, forcing NSW Health workers to chase up the final data.

Mr Beasley said an update provided after passengers had left the vessel revealed “many more passengers who had identified as having attended the medical centre with both acute respiratory disease and influenza-like illness”


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