How on earth were hundreds of passengers on the Ruby Princess allowed to disembark from Sydney and return to Florida from Tasmania?
(photo 1: Ruby Princess leaves Sydney on March 19 after passengers disembark.)
Around 6 a.m. on March 19, retired Australian mortgage broker William White awoke slightly ill. He had a cough and a runny nose, but it didn’t look very serious. But anyway, there’s no time to get out of bed. White and his wife Lucia have just finished their ten day cruise to New Zealand, which is now docked in Sydney. This is a 950 foot, 1542 cabin cruise ship operated by the princess cruise line of Carnival company. It is called Ruby Princess. The White’s departure time is 8:05 a.m. At the same time, they came to the bar for breakfast, and then got off the boat with the explorers on time.
Passenger unloading is a complex process, and delays are common. But the whites waited only a moment before they were told they could leave. They walked through the corridor, and the passing crew waved and clapped goodbye. It took only a few minutes to cross Sydney’s overseas passenger terminal. Although the new coronavirus pandemic has accelerated, Australian officials have allowed the Ruby Princess to board and disembark without restrictions. The passengers who come down don’t need to show their passport, let alone take their temperature. The only document required is the entry form. The border staff just glanced at the form and let the passengers through.
(photo 2: passengers leave Ruby Princess in Sydney.)
8: By the time they were 30, the whites were already on the streets of Sydney. More than 2600 other passengers have already been scattered, some in taxis, some on commuter trains, some on crowded airport buses. “I often travel abroad by air and cruise,” White said in a statement to investigators later, “but I haven’t experienced such a short trip.”
The decision to allow the Ruby Princess to land in Sydney will have far-reaching implications. It turns out that the ship is the most important carrier of Australian coronavirus, which once accounted for more than 10% of confirmed cases in the country. In Tasmania, two cruise passengers may have caused a serious outbreak of the disease, resulting in the closure of a major hospital. Other infected passengers flew to the United States, some even died. At the same time, the crew of the ship were trapped like prisoners on the Ruby Princess, some of whom were unable to return home for months.
Although there were a large number of confirmed cases on several cruise ships at the beginning of the epidemic, the Ruby Princess was quite different. It’s not just that 28 people on board died of new coronavirus disease – the most of all cruise ships. Two other infamous Carnival cruises, the diamond princess, which had been closed to Japanese docks for weeks, and the zandan, which wandered off the west coast of South America in search of a country to allow it to dock, never let passengers off. But Ruby Princess is the opposite. It was only when the passengers got ashore that they discovered that this was an incubator for a devastating outbreak.
In an e-mail statement, the Ruby Princess said: “our highest responsibility and our top priority has always been the safety, health and well-being of guests, crew members and community personnel wherever they go”, and has fully complied with public health guidelines during the journey. “As global health agencies provide new information, we will constantly update and adjust our policies and agreements to reflect the latest developments related to the new outbreak.” When the Ruby Princess first set sail, the company said: “there was no coronavirus transmission in Australian communities at that time.”
After the cruise ship landed, the situation changed dramatically. At that time, Australia, with its isolated geographical location and sound health care system, seemed ready to escape the worst pandemic. The subsequent fiasco prompted the government to make a series of efforts to find out where the problem lies and who should be held accountable. The New South Wales Government has organized a high-profile public investigation, and the police are also led by homicide detectives. One by one, the passengers filed lawsuits. Everyone is trying to answer a central question: How did hundreds of infected passengers get off a cruise ship and head for the heart of Sydney at a time when governments around the world are on the alert?
(Photo 3: Rossi Gil and the official account of the ruby public.
Early return to Hong Kong
The Circular Quay is probably the best place in the world to start sea travel. Located at the foot of the hill in Sydney’s Financial District, on one side is the rock culture zone, one of the earliest European settlements on the continent. In addition, there are the arch of the harbour bridge and the famous Sydney Opera House, which seems to be setting sail.
On March 8, thousands of passengers boarded the Ruby Princess from the cruise port at the circular pier. The growing outbreak of the new coronavirus seems to have failed to stop the enthusiasm of passengers. Despite the panic among Australians – hand sanitizer and canned food in shops in Sydney began to sell out, and people from China, Iran and South Korea were banned from entering the country, the number of confirmed cases in Australia is still quite low. In New Zealand, the destination of the 13 day cruise, there were fewer confirmed cases.
Stephen and Rosie Kiel are two retirees from Tasmania. They arrived at the port at 12:30 p.m. to celebrate Rosie’s 70th birthday with a sea trip. Shortly after arriving at the terminal, the Ruby Princess announced that boarding would be delayed until late afternoon. “We then went to the roundabout and found a nice little bar,” Stephen recalled. “And then we talked about the virus. Unfortunately, we were thinking, “this won’t happen to us. The infection rate is not high.” Rosie stood in front of the cruise ship and took a picture; Stephen wanted to edit the name of the boat and change it to “Princess Rosie.”.
What they didn’t know was that in the early hours of that day, a government epidemiologist named Kelly Anne lesler and seven other staff members had boarded the ship after the cruise ship had returned from its previous voyage. They carry suitcases full of masks, gloves and test swabs. The NSW Department of health hopes to be able to screen arriving passengers who may be carrying the new coronavirus, whether they have reported respiratory symptoms or recently visited the affected country. Lesler was shocked by the number of people gathered in the restaurant – more than 300. She and her team distributed masks, took their temperature, and asked about their travel history. They decided to test nine people for the virus and then let the others off the ship. A doctor told the crew that new passengers should not be allowed on board until the results came out.
At 5:30 p.m., the test results came out: all negative. The Ruby Princess can set off for the next voyage. Boarding begins. The cruise ship leaves the berth at night, slowly passes the opera house and leaves the port. Some of the guests watched the city lights fade away from the terrace.
Diane Fishburn, a travel agent from dela beach, Florida, could have a good night’s sleep on her way to New Zealand over the next two days. She has been on the road since late February, leading a group of tourists around Australia. But boat trips are also part of the trip, so she has to take on the responsibilities of a tour guide and social director again, checking out the recreational activities on the boat and making sure everyone has a good time.
More and more bad news is coming from abroad. Italy has imposed a national blockade since March 9, and soon president trump issued an unprecedented ban on people from Europe entering the United States. Fish wasn’t so nervous, he felt so far away from all this. “It wasn’t realized at the time that we weren’t safe anywhere,” she said. But she had one of her colleagues prepare to help her reschedule the tour if the cruise ship stops in New Zealand.
There are a lot of activities for Tasman to cross the sea. The Ruby Princess, launched in 2008, is not the latest or largest cruise ship on the princess cruise line, but it is still spectacular. The Ruby Princess has 19 decks, four swimming pools, and dozens of restaurants and entertainment venues, most of which surround the atrium known as piazza. The captain of the Ruby Princess was an Italian named Giorgio pomata.
After arriving in New Zealand, the cruise ship first passes through Fiordland, the fjord area at the southwest end, and then stops at Dunedin. The Ruby Princess is heading north, its last stop is Island Bay, which is scheduled to arrive on March 18.
On March 15, the cruise ship stopped at Napier, a wine town on the North Island. Crowds of tourists poured into the town, walked into the souvenir shop and got on the tour bus. On the same day, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the country was stepping up efforts to control the coronavirus. Everyone, no matter where they come from, as long as they are from overseas, need to be quarantined for 14 days after arrival. From midnight, cruise ships from foreign ports will be banned from landing.
In the Carnival’s regional offices, no one knows what the announcement means for the Ruby Princess, which carries a large number of Australian passengers. But that night, the Ruby Princess’s public address system announced that the cruise ship would return directly to Sydney.
Stephen Kiel, an old sailor, has been tracking the Ruby Princess online. He soon found that the bridge crew was speeding up to New Zealand at 24 knots or 25 knots instead of 18 knots. After the diamond princess, Carnival managers knew exactly what delays meant to cruise ships. “We don’t want you trapped anywhere or protested at the port,” one Sydney executive wrote to captain bomata.
At the same time, the passenger experience remains basically unchanged. With the exception of China, social alienation is still a relatively new concept, and restaurants, bars and other places of entertainment on board remain open. And the crowded St. Patrick’s Day celebrations went on as usual.
Three cases were diagnosed
In Sydney, officials are assessing whether and how to land the Ruby Princess. The state’s criteria for determining whether a cruise ship carries the virus are based on the travel history of the passengers on board, where they are currently travelling, and, most importantly, how many of them have reported “influenza like illness” (ILI) – commonly understood as fever or respiratory symptoms. If the number of people reported exceeds 1% of the total number of passengers and crew, and if the influenza virus test on the ship can prove that the symptoms are not caused by the influenza virus, the ship is considered to be at high risk and everyone needs to be on board until the test swab can be tested in a land laboratory. The Ruby Princess’s call on March 8 was a medium risk landing, in part because some tourists had been to Singapore. And low risk landing, passengers can normally get off the ship.
On the morning of March 18, the day before the Ruby Princess arrived, government epidemiologist lesler copied an email from von wazdorf, a senior doctor on the cruise ship. The e-mail answered a series of questions about the passenger’s travel history and condition, and pointed out that medical staff had collected swabs for “a few individuals who had fever symptoms but had negative influenza tests.”. Von wazdorf also attached the requested form, listing the names, condition and temperature of passengers with flu symptoms.
But how to deal with the Ruby Princess is not up to lessler. The decision is made by an independent panel of public health experts. They don’t think that’s a number to watch out for. Many patients go to the infirmary on their way home, but this may also be because the announcement reminds passengers to see a doctor in time if they have cough or other respiratory problems, because the virus is spreading. No passengers have recently gone to high-risk countries, and the proportion of Ili is slightly less than 1%, but a considerable number of people have tested positive for influenza. Subsequently, the expert group considered the Ruby Princess as a low risk, but suggested that some passengers with symptoms should be tested for new coronavirus in case.
On the boat, things get more strange. Percy Anderson, 75, from Queensland, walked into the elevator and found a strong man in a hoodie, zipped tightly against his mouth and nose. The woman with him was also wearing surgical masks, and both seemed to have difficulty breathing. Anderson later told investigators that he and his wife, Esther, “exchanged eyes, but said nothing.”. Another passenger, Paul Reid, recalled going to the clinic with a cough and sore throat. He said the doctor wiped his nose and immediately told him “you don’t have coronavirus.”. Reid thought that this meant that his coronavirus test was negative, but the medical team on board did not have the ability to do the virus test.
Fish still wants to relax. She ordered a spa and planned to have a good time back in Florida. After that, she felt something wrong – muscle soreness and weakness, “and she didn’t want to get out of bed the next day.”. She thought it was because she was too tired to travel.
Later on March 18, a call was received from the VTS office, which manages Sydney port traffic. The other party, the national ambulance service, asked for the latest information on the Ruby Princess. Cameron Buchart, a port manager, thinks there’s something wrong with the phone. When a cruise ship comes to shore, ambulances are usually sent to the port to prevent sudden discomfort of the elderly, but they are generally not notified in advance. So Buchart called back to learn more. “We received a reservation from Carnival Australia for two ambulances for the cruise ship arriving at 2:30 p.m., with two suspected patients with new coronavirus on board,” the ambulance coordinator told him. “We want to know if the ship will actually enter the port and whether passengers can leave the ship.” Ambulance officials said they tried to contact the carnival company but did not respond.
Vigilant, Butchart hung up and began to contact the carnival company. But no one answered. He sent an email to his colleague telling him to stop the Ruby Princess from landing. “Tell the cruise ship that their landing has been refused,” he wrote, “and have their agent contact contact immediately contact the Sydney shipping service office.”
The port staff finally contacted the carnival staff. According to the investigation documents, Carnival staff said they did call two ambulances for a passenger with severe leg disease and another passenger with heart disease, but not because of suspected coronavirus infection. With this in mind and the decision of the health service, the port authorities agreed to let the Ruby Princess dock. At 2:30 a.m., the cruise ship docked at the circular pier. In the morning, passengers will leave the ship one after another.
Until 9 a.m., the sidewalk outside the terminal is full of passengers who have just disembarked. Anderson and his wife flew back to Sydney on a bus that day. As they lined up, they found a commotion behind them: a woman fell to the ground. Anderson immediately recognized her and the man kneeling beside her. He met the couple, who were struggling to breathe, in the elevator of the cruise ship. The paramedics soon showed up with stretchers.
Fish and other passengers boarded the bus to the airport. “I sat down and left some space,” she said, “and then I heard the lady in front of me coughing. Two seconds later, the man behind him also coughed. And then the one on my right also started coughing. I said to my husband, “everyone in this car is sick.”
Meanwhile, Resler is waiting for the results of the Ruby Princess virus test, although most of the passengers on board have scattered. That afternoon, she logged into the laboratory’s website to see if the test results came out. But no. Even the samples are not registered in the system. She called the lab and they said they would test it as soon as possible.
The next morning, she went back to the website and found three swabs positive. One of the swabs came from the crew on board. Another passenger from Tasmania. The third came from a woman named Leslie bacon, who had a leg problem and was taken away by an ambulance. (von wazdorf once told the health department that both passengers had respiratory symptoms.)
It’s too late
The Ruby Princess wasn’t a low risk at all, but lesler knew it too late. The state government rushed to deploy contact trackers, and officials began to hold conference calls to try to figure out which link went wrong. But time is running out.
Towards the end of the day, lesler found something strange: some people who had been tested for coronavirus were not on the list of passengers and staff with symptoms sent on March 18. By this time, four people had tested positive. Lesler contacted von wazdorf and asked, “do you have an updated list of ARI?” (ARI: acute respiratory disease) “some of the people who have been tested are no longer on the list that I got. Have you added any new patients after sending the list? ”
Six minutes later, von wazdorf sent a reply. “I’ll send it to you now. I’m really sorry, the latest list was from the last morning, but I forgot. It’s crazy. ” The number of people on the updated list has not increased significantly, but the change is crucial: the proportion of updated Ili reaches 1.3%, which is higher than the threshold of 1% which implies high risk. Ruby Princess also updated passengers’ illness information on another government platform until the early morning of March 18. But lesler later testified that she was not aware of the data.
“I kept asking myself if I could do more to protect people,” von wazdorf told lesler that night.
(Photo 4: Ruby Princess docked at circular pier, March 19.)
The passengers on board were now scattered across Australia and around the world, some of whom had caught the last flight before the international border was closed. The carnival company provided government officials with a list of passengers’ contact information, but the details were not accurate. Some passengers don’t answer the phone at all. By March 20, only 44 international tourists were contacted by the contact tracking personnel, and 526 international tourists were not heard from. Over the weekend, Qantas reported that 170 “close contacts from the Ruby Princess” flew to the United States on March 21. The government is a step late. The next night, the Australian border service will put the Ruby Princess passengers on a special list – a “no boarding” reminder will be issued at the time of check-in.
When he boarded a flight to the United States on March 19, fish was still unaware of the confirmed case. She realized that things had changed when she changed planes in San Francisco. Some of her group got contact tracking calls. As it happened, she began to feel uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. The airport was almost empty and she found an empty bench to lie down for a while. “I know I have a fever. So I found a place to sit away from people and I wanted to do the test as soon as possible, “she said.
Fish went home for 12 hours and went to sleep. When she woke up, she found an emergency care center nearby where tests could be done. The test confirmed her suspicions: positive. Her husband is also positive.
Confirmed cases from the Ruby Princess have also emerged in Australia. White, a former mortgage broker, thought he was just catching a cold when he returned to his home in South Sydney. Two days later, a friend who was also on the same cruise ship called to say that her husband had been taken to hospital for complications of the new coronavirus. Subsequently, the white and his wife also went to have a test, all positive. Now, they have recovered.
Two other passengers, 72 year old Vietnam veteran Graham Reke and his wife Carla, isolated themselves at their home near Brisbane. They heard on March 20 that someone on board had been diagnosed. Although there were no special symptoms, the couple went to the hospital for testing. Because he had no symptoms, the doctor didn’t test him, but his wife, with a dry cough and fever, stayed in the hospital waiting for the test results.
The next morning, Carla called to tell her husband that she had been diagnosed. Soon, Rick felt uncomfortable himself. A week later, an ambulance took her to the hospital. He also confirmed it. He was sent to a ward with his wife. Before long, Carla was in intensive care. Rick was with her. In the early hours of March 29, he found that Carla had lost her breath. He stood in front of his wife’s bed for a while, then returned to his bed, not knowing what to do next. “I watched my wife die and I couldn’t do anything,” he said.
In Hobart, Tasmania retiree Kiel also tested positive for the virus. A day after returning home, he was taken to the hospital and into intensive care unit.
In Hobart, Tasmania retiree Kiel also tested positive for the virus. A day after returning home, he was taken to the hospital and into intensive care unit. His wife, Rosie, and his daughter, who almost thought he was going to die, wore protective clothing and went to the hospital to see him “for the last time.”. Fortunately, 11 days later, Kiel finally recovered. After a few months, he still felt like a fish out of water. “Of the six people I went with, I thought I was the one in the best health,” he said, “but it turned out that I was sick.”
Five star mobile prison
On the Ruby Princess, only a group of people were seen as potential carriers of the virus from the beginning. That’s more than 1000 people on board. Most of them came from countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines and were not allowed to disembark in Sydney, but were asked to return to the port of departure. But for a company with Financial Complexity like carnival, this is more difficult to do. The Ruby Princess’s nominal home port is Bermuda. At the moment, the crew can only stay on board until the company is sure where the ship can go.
After the passengers left, the crew began their own carnival. On the night of March 19, they held a “windsurfing party” by the pool. But the next departure was a voyage without destination. The medical staff on board found that more and more people had respiratory symptoms. A Filipino crew member, who asked for anonymity, said more and more colleagues were sent to the cabin for quarantine. Only the seriously ill are allowed to return to Sydney for treatment.
Australian officials finally allowed the cruise ship to dock in early April, but not at the circular pier, as opposition politicians and unions became increasingly uneasy about what was going on board the Ruby Princess. The cruise ship ended up in the remote port of kambla. There, cruise ships really become “a five-star mobile prison.”. Almost all people can only move in their dormitories and are only allowed to open the door to receive food or receive treatment. Police and soldiers were stationed at the dock.
The state government is eager to solve the problem. But it is also unreasonable to let ships full of new coronavirus patients continue to roam the sea. By mid April, more than 10% of the crew had been diagnosed. It wasn’t until the end of April that people came up with a solution. Everyone on board was tested for the virus, and those who were negative could fly away.
(Photo 5: Ruby Princess leaves kambla on April 23.)
Seafarers from poorer countries are in a more difficult situation. Although compassionate groups believe Australia should help them return, more than 500 crew members from developing countries, which have limited capacity to organize repatriation, remain on board the Ruby Princess and sail all the way to Manila, the Philippine capital. The Philippine crew was relatively lucky, and on April 23, they got the following ship; after two weeks of sailing in the Philippines, the other crew members still had to wait a few more weeks before they were allowed to go ashore.
(Photo 6: Ruby Princess (left), docked with other ships in Manila Bay, May 7.)
Now, the Ruby Princess is docked off the coast of Malaysia. It is not clear whether anyone will be held responsible for what happened on board. Overall, at least 663 passengers and 191 crew members were infected with the new coronavirus. Of the 28 dead, 20 were in Australia and eight in the United States – twice the death toll on the diamond princess. Thus, a “most deadly marine epidemic” was brewing on the Ruby Princess.
Disaster from heaven
The NSW police department is still conducting a long-term investigation, while lawsuits in Australia and California are still at an early stage. A public inquiry led by prominent Sydney lawyers released their report on August 14. The results of the report showed that the medical staff of Carnival company and Ruby Princess complied with public health requirements. But the report does suggest that if von wazdorf promptly informed public health officials of the number of sick passengers on board after sending the initial patient list, the results might be different.
The report makes the most incisive criticism of the government’s process of allowing the Ruby Princess to dock, calling it a “serious mistake.”. According to the report, it is “extremely unreasonable” for the government process to regard the cruise ship as low-risk. After the report was released, the Ruby Princess issued a statement expressing “deep sorrow” to the dead. “Sorry for the mistakes of the health staff of New Zealand, Chen”.
For this reason, the northwest of Tasmania, which suffered the most tragic consequences, is relatively backward in economy. Shortly after the cruise ship arrived in Sydney, the first sick passenger from the Ruby Princess was taken to the Northwest Regional Hospital (nwrh) in Burney. A week later, another patient was admitted. At the beginning of April, the national health department found that one or two of the two patients were likely to be the original communicators, leading to the rapid spread of the virus in hospitals. On April 12, the Tasmanian government announced that the hospital was closed, requiring employees and their families to be isolated immediately for 14 days. Military doctors had to fly to the area to deal with the emergency. Eventually, 138 people in the area were infected and 10 died.
The cruelty of the epidemic is random. Bill and Adrian Crist have lived in the northwestern part of the island for more than 40 years. They raised three daughters and lived by the sea, facing the sea. Their home, about an hour’s drive from Bernie.
In early April, Bill told his wife that he was not feeling well and wanted to go to the hospital. Adrian is in charge of driving. On the way, she asked Bill whether to go left or right – to Bernie town and nwrh, to the right to a hospital in another town. Finally, Bill chose to go left because of the beautiful scenery.
Bill was admitted to the hospital immediately. At first, the hospital “did not take obvious preventive measures,” Adrian recalled. A few days later, Bill got worse and Adrian was told to leave. But Adrian refused.
Bill died on April 10, the day after their 57th wedding anniversary. It was not until the last minute that the doctor told Adrian that bill was infected with the new coronavirus. It’s almost certain that he got the virus in the hospital – “probably from the second or third transmission on the Ruby Princess,” Adrian said. At first, she didn’t understand how the virus had spread to her small, almost isolated place. Now, she said, “the virus came from cruise ships. And we’ve never even been close to a cruise ship. ”
By Jason Scott