Four cruise ships given special permission to dock in Australia despite 30-day coronavirus ban
PHOTO: Passengers disembark from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay earlier this week. (AAP: Dean Lewins )
The NSW Government has hit back against criticism of its handling of cruise ship arrivals, insisting it has a strict compliance regime, despite almost 2,700 passengers being allowed to disembark in Sydney in the face of a national coronavirus crackdown.
Four cruise ships have been given special permission to dock in Australia, despite the nationwide 30-day ban, but the Federal Health Minister insists they are arriving under "strict conditions".
Greg Hunt has also confirmed Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram contacted New South Wales authorities on Friday after the handling of the Ruby Princess's arrival in Sydney this week was criticised.
Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap
Four people from the vessel have tested positive for COVID-19 — three passengers who have been taken to hospital and a fourth person, a crew member, who remains in isolation on the ship.
Despite this, the 2,647 passengers were still allowed to disembark from Ruby Princess at Circular Quay, sparking fears they could unknowingly spread the virus throughout the community.
NSW Opposition health spokesman Ryan Park branded the situation "absurd".
"It seems to be unbelievably absurd in the middle of a pandemic that this would be allowed to happen," he said.
NSW Health said it had contacted all passengers to reinforce the importance of self-isolation for 14 days.
More than 1,000 Ruby Princess crew members remain quarantined on the ship.
Mr Hunt said the states were responsible for dealing with the cruise ships and indicated NSW had not followed the correct procedure.
"Those returning to Australian ports are returning under strict conditions," he said.
"NSW is now applying those conditions and I thank them for accepting the advice of the Border Force Commissioner, who rang to ensure they are fully aware of their responsibilities."
NSW Health Minister hits back at criticism
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard defended the state's handling of cruise ships.
"The Federal Government made an order that required cruising chips to cease cruising for 30 days," he said.
"That has seen, in the busiest port in Australia, a massive inflow of ships. Since mid-February, we've had 63 cruising liners come through the Port of Sydney.
"The Federal Government's national direction occurred in mid-March, but the State Government here in New South Wales actually already had a very strict compliance regime that dates back to the second week of February.
"New South Wales Health informs me that New South Wales is actually going over and above what the national guidelines are.
"Now I know there might have been some contrary comments on that today and I don't intend to comment on the author, but I do intend to comment on the fact that these are the facts.
"New South Wales Health has made sure that every one of those 63 ships — long before the federal guidance and directions — has had a full assessment."
Cruise ship ban across Australia
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced a 30-day ban on all foreign cruise ships docking in Australia, but the Government had made an exemption for four which were already on their way, including the Ruby Princess.
A second cruise ship is arriving in the West Australian port of Fremantle on Saturday and a third is set to dock in Darwin this week.
All of those on board are required to self-isolate for 14 days and Mr Hunt said state health authorities had a process to deal with anyone suspected of carrying coronavirus.
"If the relevant state health authority is not confident that they are virus free, then they will remain on board until they have clear evidence," he said.
"And if they have that evidence then they will go into home isolation or medical isolation."