Border Force boss slaps down NSW Government over handling of coronavirus cruise ship

Sydney 2000

The Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner has tipped a bucket on the NSW Government over its handling of the arrival of a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Sydney last week.

Key points:

  • The total number of coronavirus cases in NSW has jumped to over 1,000
  • In the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday, 211 people returned positive results
  • Many of the new cases are linked to passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship

As the cases of COVID-19 passed 1,000 in NSW today, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said “all of us have to take responsibility” about why the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock.

Later in the morning, Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner Michael Outram pointed the finger squarely at the NSW Government, saying its health department had given the green light for passengers to disembark, despite several people onboard being tested for coronavirus.

About 2,700 passengers got off at Circular Quay last week and more than 100 have since tested positive for COVID-19.


Passengers disembarked from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay on March 19. (AAP: Dean Lewins )

“The Department of Agriculture officials advised my officers that New South Wales Health had conducted a risk assessment, had rated the risk as low and that health officials would not be attending the vessel,” he said.

“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

In the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday, 212 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in NSW, taking the state’s total number of infections to 1,029.

NSW’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said many of the new COVID-19 cases were linked to the Ruby Princess.

Yesterday a woman in her 70s who contracted the virus on the ship became the seventh coronavirus-related death in NSW.

NSW Premier grilled on COVID-19 cruise
The Government comes under fire for multiple COVID-19 cases on the Ruby Princess cruise ship. Watch the full press conference here.

Mr Outram said the ABF was responsible for customs and migration controls at the border, but not health screening.

“People can make their own minds up about what went wrong and no doubt further down the track there will be lots of inquiries about what happened,” he said.

Mr Outram said having seen the criticism directed against his organisation and officers he felt it was important “to clarify some actual facts.”

A report will be released in coming days on decisions the Berejiklian Government made around the Ruby Princess.

Dr Chant stressed there was nothing NSW Health could have done with the information they had at the time.

She said most passengers displayed symptoms of the virus only after disembarking but confirmed that one passenger was taken straight to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital after the ship docked.

Video: NSW authorities confirm first infections in children under 10.

(ABC News)

Despite the record rise in new cases, the Premier insisted “some” degree of control is being maintained over the virus.

Ms Berejiklian said most people in NSW with coronavirus had been infected overseas or after direct contact with someone who had been overseas.

“That tells us to an extent that we are maintaining some control over the virus,” Ms Berejiklain said.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

The state has recorded its first two cases of coronavirus in children under 10, after a two-month-old boy and seven-year-old girl tested positive yesterday.

Dr Chant said the cases were not linked, and that both had contact with confirmed adult cases.

She said they were now at home with minimal symptoms.

Last night Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new crackdown on social gatherings, which Ms Berejiklian said she supported.

She acknowledged the tighter measures would likely mean more people would be sacked.

But as a result of added pressure on Service NSW, the Premier announced 1,000 extra staff would be hired to work for the State Government agency.

Video: Dr Norman Swan explains how Australia could beat COVID-19

(ABC News)