Federal officials will face a parliamentary committee Tuesday over a cruise ship scandal that fueled Australia’s coronavirus crisis. More than 2,500 passengers were allowed to leave the Ruby Princess without being tested after it docked in Sydney in March despite suspected COVID-19 cases on board.
The Ruby Princess was the source of one of Australia's biggest coronavirus clusters. It led to 28 deaths and more than 1,000 infections across the country and overseas. Senior officials from Australia’s Border Force and Agriculture Department, which had staff on board the cruise liner, are expected to face tough questions from lawmakers in Canberra. They are investigating how and why 2,650 passengers were not tested for the virus, despite suspected cases onboard.
After completing an 11-day cruise to New Zealand, travelers were allowed to disembark at Sydney Harbour and catch public transport, and domestic and overseas flights home.
A parliamentary committee was set up in April to examine the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is due to complete its final report in June 2022.
A separate New South Wales inquiry into the Ruby Princess has blamed state health authorities for ‘inexcusable” mistakes. They had declared the ship to be low-risk, but the inquiry found they should have tested sick patients immediately. A police investigation into the scandal continues.
New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian says “monumental mistakes” were made.
“Can I now apologize unreservedly to anybody who suffered as a result of the mistakes that were outlined in the report undertaken by individuals within the health department. Not only have lessons been learned, but clearly those circumstances should and will never happen again in New South Wales,” Berejiklian said.
Following the Ruby Princess debacle, about a dozen other cruise liners were banned from docking at Australian ports due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Australia has had about 23,500 confirmed coronavirus cases. More than 420 people have died. The center of the public health crisis is the state of Victoria. It recorded 222 new cases Tuesday and 17 deaths.
State premier Daniel Andrews has previously described COVID-19 as a “cunning and wicked enemy.”