Coronavirus-infected passengers on the Ruby Princess cruise ship were mistakenly allowed to disembark after Australian Border Force officers confused their test results.
The passengers wrongly allowed to leave the ship when it docked at Sydney’s Circular Quay on March 19 included 13 who officials had confined to their cabins with the fever.
Border Force officials reportedly believed the passengers had tested negative for COVID-19 when they had actually only returned a negative result for the flu.
ABF command only noticed the error more than 30 hours after passengers were allowed to disembark, ABC News reported.
The ship was eventually linked to more than 660 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths.
An email exchange between an inspector for the force and ABF NSW Commander Danielle Yannopoulos details the moment officials realised the mistake had been made.
The revelation follows NSW Health admitting it made several mistakes in relation to the disembarkation of the Ruby Princess.
Gail Furness SC – counsel appearing for the state’s health department – acknowledged in her closing statement earlier this month there were a number of factors which led to the ship being deemed low risk despite transmission of COVID-19 occurring on board.
One such factor was the ‘imperfect’ risk assessment form, created by NSW Health to coincide with their cruise ship protocols draft document on February 19.
Another factor was the expert public health panel not noting the change of Communicable Diseases Network Australia guidelines on March 10 to include travellers from any overseas countries as potential COVID-19 suspect cases.
This panel was responsible for authorising the low risk rating, which meant no one from NSW Health boarded the ship when it arrived on March 19 and 2700 passengers were allowed to freely disembark.
‘There were two related mistakes. The first was the form wasn’t accurate and the fact of the form not being accurate fed into the thinking of the panellists,’ Ms Furness said.
Ruby Princess passengers and their families are also taking legal action over the deadly outbreak on the ill-fated cruise ship.
Shine Lawyers last Friday announced a class action against Carnival Plc and Princess Cruise Lines Ltd over their handling of COVID-19 cases on the ship, which disembarked in Sydney on March 19.
The law firm is seeking compensation through the federal court on behalf of passengers and their families.