‘Inexplicable’ error led to cruise virus disaster
The "low risk" rating of the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship sent a signal to "do nothing" as the virus-ridden ship docked in Sydney and was an inexplicable and unjustifiable mistake, an inquiry has found.
A missed directive on suspect cases and an outdated illness log were among the catalogue of human errors described by Bret Walker SC in his report on the cruise ship fiasco, made public on Friday.
The notorious cruise ship docked at Circular Quay in the early hours of March 19. Around 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark.
Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 and 28 deaths followed, at one time Australia's largest coronavirus outbreak, as did a brawl between the federal and state governments about whether the buck stopped with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton or with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.
The inquiry, led by eminent barrister Bret Walker SC, was established on April 15 and held hearings across 21 days. His report was handed to the NSW Government on Friday and released by Premier Gladys Berejiklian at 4pm.
It catalogues serious errors made by the NSW Health expert panel that classified the Ruby Princess as "low risk" on entry to Sydney.
"In light of all the information the expert panel had, the decision to assess the risk as 'low risk' - meaning, in effect, 'do nothing' - is as inexplicable as it is unjustifiable," Walker wrote. "It was a serious mistake."
A change to the definition of suspect cases implemented by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia was not part of the risk assessment, Mr Walker found.
He also found that the panel should have noticed the "significant spike" in rates of people with respiratory or flu-like illnesses on March 17 and requested an updated log around the time of the ship's docking.
Mr Walker also found that the small number of swabs taken on the Ruby Princess and available for testing on March 19 was a "woeful shortcoming".
"In a sense, it was lucky that the too-small sample available on 19 March did produce positive results that could produce a belated public health response," he wrote.
Mr Walker was asked to investigate the cruise ship's departure on March 8, voyage and docking on March 19, as well as the efforts to contain the community spread of COVID-19 by its passengers.
On Friday morning, Mr Dutton said the inquiry would likely change the future of how Australia policed its borders, adding health risks to the list of threats to manage.
Originally published as 'Inexplicable' error led to cruise virus disaster