Three cruise ships that unloaded thousands of passengers at Sydney Harbour last week have been linked to more than 300 new cases of coronavirus in the country.
The total number of confirmed cases in Australia soared to 3,050 on Friday following an overnight spike in NSW and Victoria.
Health officials say the majority of infections have been acquired overseas or local transmission from contact with a confirmed case or a known cluster.
A spike in cases has also been attributed to four vessels that were controversially allowed to unload thousands of passengers at Sydney Harbour despite the government announcing a 30-day ban on cruise arrivals just the day before.
The Ruby Princess, Ovation of the Seas, Celebrity Solstice and Voyager of the Seas arrived in Sydney between March 18 and March 20.
Since then, at least 325 cases – about 10 per cent of the national total – have emerged from those ships, and three deaths.
In what has been described by officials as a ‘monumental stuff up’, more than 2,600 passengers were permitted to disembark the Ruby Princess without being screened for coronavirus.
The cruise ship is now responsible for at least 227 cases across the country, with 121 in NSW, 52 in Queensland, 44 in South Australia, at least eight in WA, and two in the Northern Territory.
One female passenger in her 70s, who was among the first on board to test positive for the virus, died in a Sydney hospital on Tuesday.
Two more coronavirus-deaths have since been recorded from passengers on the Voyager of the Seas and the Celebrity Solstice – taking the national death toll to 13.
A WA man who was on board the Celebrity Solstice cruise died of the illness on Thursday night, one day after a 68-year-old Queensland man died after contracting coronavirus on the Voyager of the Seas.
As of Friday, 14 cases have emerged from the Voyager of the Seas and 81 from the Ovation of the Seas.
In WA, authorities revealed 25 per cent of its 231 confirmed cases have come from cruise ships, at least eight of those from the Ruby Princess.
Five new cases were confirmed in Tasmania on Thursday, all linked to passengers on the Ovation of the Seas.
Earlier this week emails emerged revealing authorities had been aware of ‘inadequate’ coronavirus screening measures at Australian ports before the outbreak was declared a pandemic.
An email from the Maritime Union of Australia to PANSW, obtained by The Australian, reveal officials raised concerns about a ‘gaping hole’ in biosecurity due to ‘failure to implement adequate checks for coronavirus infections on vessels arriving at Australian ports.’
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. ‘
Ship masters are known for not reporting sickness among crew on board because staff tend to hide any illness in fear of being sent home and losing out on their jobs, Mr Garrett later told the publication on Wednesday.
Elisa McCafferty, 48, her husband and her parents were among the 2,700 passengers on the Ruby Princess.
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.