(Image: Unsplash/Claudio Schwarz)

The docking of the luxury cruise ship Ruby Princess and its 1148 crew and 2647 passengers at Sydney’s Circular Quay last Friday may constitute the single biggest contributor to Australia’s coronavirus crisis.

Here’s what happened in the lead-up to a debacle that should never have happened.

March 6: Federal government publishes the National Protocol for Managing Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Risk From Cruise Ships, which states “provided there are no concerns about the COVID-19 risk, profile of a ship or suspected COVID-19 cases reported” a ship may be allowed to continue its voyage.

March 8: Ruby Princess leaves Sydney on a 13-day New Zealand tour. Reports now indicate the ship may well have carried infected passengers prior to leaving. 

March 12: Ruby Princess owner, Princess Cruises, announces “voluntary and temporary pause” of operations for 60 days.

March 14: NZ government announces temporary ban on cruise ships from overseas.

March 14: Five people on board the Ruby Princess with influenza-like illness are tested in Wellington, New Zealand and all are negative for COVID-19 at this time. Ruby Princess is redirected to Australia.

March 19: Ruby Princess docks in Sydney.

March 20: NSW Health announces it has identified four people who have tested positive to COVID-19. One, a resident of Tasmania, is still in NSW being assessed at a Sydney hospital. One is taken directly from the ship to hospital. One presents to a Sydney hospital after disembarkation for testing. The fourth confirmed case is a crew member who is in isolation on board the ship. Ninety-eight of the 1148 crew left the ship and departed NSW for their home countries. 

March 22: NSW Health announces it will “go even further beyond the national protocol and its current own state protocols, and will hold all cruise ships in port until any patients highlighted as having respiratory issues are tested for COVID-19. At the same time, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says his staff made a mistake by letting passengers disembark.

Today, the spread of COVID-19 from the Ruby Princess has blown out to 48 confirmed cases. According to the NSW Health department, quoting data collected Sunday night, 17 passengers and one crew member have been diagnosed in NSW and eight passengers have been diagnosed interstate. Sixty-three percent of the passengers on board were Australian residents, 20% were residents of the United States, and the rest are from a variety of other countries. 

The NSW Health Department has attempted to shift blame to the federal government, claiming that it followed the federal government’s national protocol.

“Contrary to some public statements made, every cruise liner that has entered NSW ports has been the subject of an assessment well beyond federal requirements,” NSW Health said.

According to the protocol, “provided there are no concerns about the COVID-19 risk profile of a ship or suspected COVID-19 cases reported” a ship may be allowed to continue the voyage while samples are being tested.