Staff of coronavirus cruise told passengers they could ‘walk off’

Thousands of cruise ship passengers were allegedly told they could ‘walk off and go home’ with no medical checks before several travellers were diagnosed with coronavirus

  • Ovation of the Seas staff allegedly told passengers to ‘walk off and go home’ 
  • A 67-year-old Canadian passenger was later diagnosed with coronavirus in NSW
  • He is one of 13 cases in NSW linked to the cruise ship, which docked in Sydney 
  • It comes amid fears thousands could now be at risk thanks to the cruise debacle
  • Four cruise liners docked in Sydney in the last week with infected passengers 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Thousands of cruise ship passengers were allegedly told they could ‘walk off and go home’ with no medical checks, before at least 31 of them were diagnosed with coronavirus

The Ovation of the Seas, which docked in Sydney on March 18, has since been linked to 31 cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales alone. 

It was one of four ships to dock in Sydney in the last week with infected passengers aboard, with authorities fearing the thousands who disembarked may have contributed to a spike in the number of cases of COVID-19 in Australia. 

There are now 2,675 confirmed cases across Australia, with NSW having 1,219 and seven deaths – the highest number nationwide.

In a shocking audio clip played on the Kyle and Jackie O Show on Thursday, a member of staff is heard allegedly telling thousands of passengers they could ‘walk off and go home’, without the need to self-isolate. 

The ship, carrying nearly 3,000 passengers, docked in Sydney on March 18, with the holidaymakers pouring into Australia and some even taking domestic flights.

Passengers are seen flocking from Ovation of the Seas after it docked in Sydney (pictured) on March 18, having been told they could 'walk off and go home'

Passengers are seen flocking from Ovation of the Seas after it docked in Sydney (pictured) on March 18, having been told they could ‘walk off and go home’

But four days after they arrived, passengers began receiving frantic emails and calls from health officials, advising them they urgently needed to self-isolate.

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‘In conference with the Australian Border Force today, we have the confirmation that none of our guests will be required to self-isolate or anything of that sort,’ the staff member is claimed to have told passengers before arriving in Sydney.

‘We have a full, clean bill of health, so to speak. Whether you’re international or going back home in Australia, you will walk off and go home.’ 

The passengers are heard cheering on the recording, claimed to have been made hours before the ship docked in Sydney. 

Officials later discovered that a 67-year-old male passenger from Canada had contracted the deadly respiratory virus, and had been infectious for the last two days of the trip. 

The Ovation of the Seas (pictured) sailed back into Sydney on March 18, with thousands of passengers disembarking

The Ovation of the Seas (pictured) sailed back into Sydney on March 18, with thousands of passengers disembarking

Scores of employees were later seen piling out of the Ovation of the Seas ship without being tested for coronavirus (pictured on Saturday)

Scores of employees were later seen piling out of the Ovation of the Seas ship without being tested for coronavirus (pictured on Saturday)

CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 2,675

New South Wales: 1,219

Victoria: 520

Queensland: 443

Western Australia: 205

South Australia: 197

Australian Capital Territory: 44

Tasmania: 42 

Northern Territory: 5

TOTAL CASES:  2,675

DEAD: 12

The ship had been allowed to dock as it had not entered a foreign country, having planned to sail to New Zealand but been refused entry.  

It comes as police in New South Wales begin to patrol docks to ensure no other infected passengers enter Australia.

There are still around 1,100 crew members on the Ruby Princess, some of whom have developed flu-like symptoms. 

The Ruby Princess returned to Sydney last Thursday with 1,148 crew and 2,647 passengers on board – all who disembarked the vessel without going through any health screenings or assessments for COVID-19.

Since then, at least 133 passengers have tested positive for coronavirus – which makes the ship Australia’s largest source of infections.

As of Thursday morning, Australia's death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 11, with 2,675 cases across the country

As of Thursday morning, Australia’s death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 11, with 2,675 cases across the country

One female passenger, aged in her 70s, has since died.

Several ships were allowed to dock in Australia and disembark passengers, despite a ban coming into place on March 15.  

Those ships – Ruby Princess, Ovation of the Seas, Celebrity Solstice and Voyager of the Seas – arrived in Sydney between March 18 and March 20. 

All have had cases of coronavirus since docking. 

Garry Kirstenfeldt, 68, a passenger on board the Voyager of the Seas, which docked in Sydney on March 18, died on Wednesday. 

It comes as NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Thursday passengers won’t be allowed off cruise ships in Sydney until new protocols are signed.

‘I don’t want a single person coming off a ship in Sydney until various signing of protocols between the federal and state governments,’ Ms Berejiklian said.

‘And that’s what we are negotiating with the federal government.’

Ms Berejiklian said that harsher protocols needed to be introduced to stop cruise ship disembarking without strict checks.

‘The position we land on we will mean that the state and federal authorities will be in complete lockstep,’ Ms Berejiklian said.

An email from the Maritime Union of Australia to PANSW, obtained by The Australian, reveal it had pushed for reforms to address the ‘failure to implement adequate checks for coronavirus infections’ at seaports.

The documents also raised concerns over how ship masters – who are not medically trained – are authorised to ‘self-declare’ any biosecurity risks.

‘Undoubtedly, there is a global concern regarding the potential spread of this deadly virus,’ Maritime Union of Australia assistant secretary Paul Garrett told PANSW chief executive Philip Holliday in an email.

‘Any accurate diagnosis of a virus like the coronavirus is left to medically untrained seafarers as well as ships masters who simply would not be familiar with the symptoms and diagnosis of coronavirus as part of their Medical First Aid on board Ship Certificate. ‘ 

The Princess Cruises-operated Ruby Princess ship returned to Sydney on Thursday with 2,647 passengers on board - all were allowed to disembark without

The Princess Cruises-operated Ruby Princess ship returned to Sydney on Thursday with 2,647 passengers on board – all were allowed to disembark without 

Rona Dobrin said she and her husband Michael (picture) developed a cough a day or two before the Ruby Princess docked

Ruby Princess cruise ship passenger Greg Butler (left) is currently in ICU in Tamworth Hospital with coronavirus

Several passengers and crew members from the Ruby Princess, including Rona and Michael Dobrin (pictured, left) and Greg Butler (right) have since tested positive for coronavirus

Elisa McCafferty, 48, her husband and her parents were among the 2,700 passengers on the Ruby Princess. 

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She said she only learned about the outbreak on the ship when she got to London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday.

‘They should not have let us on, and they should not have let us off, and they should not have let us out of the country,’ she told The Australian. 

Health authorities had classed the Ruby Princess as low risk, given it had sailed from Sydney to New Zealand.

The Border Force even issued a notice instructing the 2,700 passengers that they could travel home in the normal manner, but should self-isolate for 14 days.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said most infected passengers hadn’t displayed symptoms until the day they left the ship or later. 

She said there was little health authorities could do to prevent the disembarkation of asymptomatic cruise passengers. 

People are seen aboard the Celebrity Solstice on Friday (pictured) as it docked at Circular Quay amid the coronavirus crisis

People are seen aboard the Celebrity Solstice on Friday (pictured) as it docked at Circular Quay amid the coronavirus crisis

An elderly couple who caught coronavirus on the Ruby Princess claim cruise ship staff kept them in the dark about other guests who had symptoms of the illness.

Michael Dobrin, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, and his wife Rona, 75, disembarked in Sydney on March 19 and tested positive to COVID-19 two days later. 

NSW Health on Sunday confirmed 26 passengers from the ship tested positive to coronavirus, after it was allowed to dock in Sydney.

Seventeen passengers and one crew member were diagnosed in NSW while eight passengers were diagnosed interstate.

Ms Dobrin said she and her husband developed a cough a day or two before the ship docked, but had no other symptoms.

THE FIVE CRUISES WITH CONFIRMED CORONAVIRUS CASES

• Ruby Princess, leaving  Sydney on March 8 and returning on March 19

• Ovation of the Seas, leaving Sydney on March 11 and returning on March 18

• Voyager of the Seas, leaving Sydney on February 25 and returning on March 7

• Voyager of the Seas, leaving Sydney on March 7 and returning on March 18

• Celebrity Solstice, confirmed case joined the ship in Auckland on March 10, docked in Sydney on March 20


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