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Ruby Princess COVID-19 heartbreak as Vietnam War veteran opens up on wife who died from coronavirus

A Vietnam war veteran has told an inquiry he is trapped in a life of loneliness after his wife of 25-years contracted COVID-19 and died following a trip on the Ruby Princess cruise.

Brisbane retiree Graeme Lake, 72, made the confession via video link on Friday and admitted he no longer has anyone to cook for or speak to since the passing of his partner Karla in March.

‘My life’s finished, I’m just stuck here now,’ he said.

The NSW government commissioned an inquiry into the Ruby Princess after its 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark from the cruise ship in Sydney before results for COVID-19 were received.

More than 900 cases and twenty-eight deaths have been linked to the cluster.

Mr Lake and four of his friends contracted the virus while Mrs Lake lost her life because of it, The Australian reported.

Mr Lake and his partner had been on more than 20 cruises prior to the Ruby Princess.

The pair decided to make the trip this time around to celebrate Mrs Lake’s 75th birthday.   

Mr Lake called himself ‘old fashioned’ as he believed it was his responsibility to look after his family and bring them home safely while on holiday.

‘Well I didn’t do that, I failed badly,’ he said. 

The pair had no idea anybody was sick onboard at the time.

Mr Lake said it was the first cruise he had been on where the captain did not interact with guests at a party.

The inquiry heard the 72-year-old later took this as an indication the captain might have known there was ‘sickness around’.

Mr Lake said he would immediately have isolated his wife in a cabin if a doctor or captain had informed him at the time. 

Only a day after the cruise, Mrs Lake was experiencing breathing difficulties and was taken to a Queensland hospital and placed in isolation. 

Mr Lake fell ill and joined her a couple of days later. While he slowly recovered in the bed beside her, his lifelong wife did not. 

The war veteran told the inquiry he still thinks about the couple’s decision to go on the cruise.   

‘I still took her away, she’s smiling, she’s happy, she’s enjoying herself, she’s relying on me to do everything for her, which I’ve been doing for the last few years.’

Bret Walker SC was tasked with examining the Ruby Princess’ departure, arrival and disembarkation and conducted 21 days’ of hearings from April to July. 

After hearing weeks of evidence, the Special Commission of Inquiry on Friday released its findings. 

The report noted that on March 10 the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia amended its guidelines such that everyone on board the ship with newly-defined suspect cases should be tested. 

But when a risk assessment was conducted on March 18, those making decisions did not have the updated definition of a ‘suspect case’.

‘This was a serious and material error,’ the commission found. 

Despite the respiratory symptoms of numerous of those aboard and uncertainty surrounding test results, 2700 passengers were permitted to disembark as the voyage had been deemed low risk by NSW health authorities.

This is because only 0.94 per cent of passengers presented to the ship’s medical centre with flu-like symptoms – not the one per cent required to mandate NSW Health intervention – and none had visited virus-hit countries China, Italy, Iran or South Korea.  

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