Seven passengers on the Artania cruise ship, currently moored off the coast of Fremantle in Western Australia, have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The WA Government will not let the ship’s passengers disembark
- But it may allow the sick to be isolated in a Commonwealth facility
- Several ships are floating off WA and not being allowed to dock
WA Premier Mark McGowan has called on the Royal Australian Navy to help get the ship, which has no Australians among its 800 passengers and 500 crew on board, to leave Australian waters.
State authorities have said only people with a life-threatening medical situation would be allowed entry into the state.
However, Health Minister Roger Cook said one man in his 70s had been transferred off the Artania on Thursday afternoon and taken to a Perth hospital.
He said the man had a life-threatening condition that was not related to COVID-19 and he was not one of the seven passengers on board the ship who tested positive.
“However, as a precaution he is being treated in a negative pressure room at Fiona Stanley Hospital to ensure we don’t take any unnecessary chances,” Mr Cook said.
WA Health officials were on board the ship yesterday testing and assessing people.
In addition to the seven who tested positive, WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said a further two passengers who were German citizens had tested positive, but disembarked the ship at other Australian ports and had subsequently left the country.
“That then indicates to us that we should treat the Artania as a ship that is infected with COVID,” Commissioner Dawson said.
Meanwhile the number of coronavirus cases in Western Australia has risen by 26, bringing the state’s total diagnosed cases to 231.
This number includes one death, but Mr Cook said 23 people had now recovered.
WA COVID-19 snapshot
- Confirmed cases so far: 311
- Deaths: 2
- Tested negative: 12,693
Of the new cases, 17 are male and nine are female. The youngest of the new cases was a seven-year-old child and the oldest was aged 81.
“I understand that child is self-isolating at home with their family and is comfortable,” Mr Cook said.
One of the cases is from the Pilbara in WA’s north.
It means there are now two cases in the Mid West, one in the Goldfields, six in the South West, three in the Kimberley, two in the Wheatbelt, two in the Great Southern and two in the Pilbara.
Mr Cook said 11 patients remained in Perth hospitals, three of them were in a critical condition.
WA in ‘strong’ position: Minister
Four of the cases diagnosed today are from cruise ships, taking the total number of cruise ship passengers with COVID-19 in WA to 51.
Mr Cook said every case confirmed in the state up until Wednesday night had been connected in some way to overseas travel.
“Fifty per cent of those people were people who have returned to Western Australia on flights,” Mr Cook said.
“Twenty five are cruise ship passengers and 25 are close contacts with either those cruise ship passengers or people who have returned from flights.
“That is a really strong situation for Western Australia to be in.”
Mr Cook said two of Thursday’s new cases had been listed as an “unknown source”, but that did not necessarily mean they contracted the virus via community spread.
“The vast majority of our cases have come from overseas, with a small percentage acquired through contact with confirmed cases,” he said.
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Defence bases to treat ill foreign cruise passengers
The WA Government has requested Commonwealth help to deal with the cruise ship situation and said if any foreign cruise passengers required medical attention on shore, that should take place in a defence facility away from the public.
“We’d like the Commonwealth to assist with that, we’d like those passengers … if they have to, to go into a Commonwealth facility,” Mr McGowan said.
He said the Government needed to work out a way to refuel the Artania and called on the Commonwealth to use its assets, including the Royal Australian Navy, to assist.
“The Commonwealth has assets here, it has defence assets, it has the navy — we’d like their assistance to try to get the Artania to leave as soon as possible,” he said.
“There’s no Australians on board, it needs to be fuelled, but it needs to leave and go to its home port.
“Its home port is actually Germany, so what we’re saying to the ship is ‘you need to leave’, and we’re saying to the Commonwealth ‘you need to help us get that ship to leave’.
Commissioner Dawson said the Artania’s next scheduled port of call was in South Africa.
Mr McGowan said he and Commissioner Dawson had been in contact with Australia’s Border Force to work out an arrangement to deal with the ship.
The Australian Defence Force has a maritime facility at Garden Island, just south of Perth.
No repeat of Ruby Princess episode
Mr McGowan said he did not want a repeat of the Ruby Princess fiasco in Sydney, where some of the thousands of passengers allowed to disembark later tested positive to COVID-19.
“[The Ruby Princess] in Sydney has obviously distressed and caused a lot of concern about the safety of these cruise ships,” Mr McGowan told Channel 7’s Sunrise.
“So we’re taking a precautionary approach to ensure that we protect our citizens.”
There are two ships currently off the coast of WA — the Artania and the Magnifica, while another, the Vasco da Gama, is due to dock on Friday.
The Magnifica and the Artania do not have any Australian passengers on board.
But the Vasco da Gama has 800 — including 200 West Australians. Its home port is Fremantle.
Rottnest option put in place for WA residents
The WA Government said it had asked the Vasco da Gama, which is due to dock on Friday, to delay berthing until Monday.
The plan is to ferry the West Australians on board to the former holiday destination of Rottnest Island — which has been repurposed by the State Government as a COVID-19 quarantine camp — where they will self isolate for 14 days.
Mr McGowan said the delay would allow more time to prepare the island for the new arrivals.
International passengers and crew would need to remain on board unless they required urgent medical care or were being securely transferred to an airport.
Dean Brazier, managing director of CMV Australia which operates the Vasco da Gama, said all passengers on board, regardless of nationality, were either Australian or New Zealand residents with valid visas.
He said he was working with the Premier’s office to clarify what the arrangements would be for these people.
Mr McGowan said the procedure for the 600 interstate Australian passengers on board would depend on their home state.
He said he did not have a breakdown of the passengers’ home states apart from the 200 West Australians.
“Interstate passengers will have an option, if agreed by their home state, to fly home directly, or remain on the ship self-isolating until travel arrangements are made,” he said.
“Rottnest Island will be used as a last resort for them.”
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Island quarantine station ready to receive passengers
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia earlier told ABC Radio Perth he was ensuring people disembarking from the Vasco da Gama would be put directly into quarantine.
“No-one is getting off any cruise ship unless they’ve done 14 days’ isolation,” Mr Papalia said.
Mr Papalia said Rottnest Island was fully equipped to accommodate hundreds of people.
“We’ve got a plan, we can do it, there’s sufficient accommodation, we’ve cleared the island, we’ve got the island authority fully capable of supporting this task,” he said.
“We’ve got the capacity to medevac people via aircraft if we need to from the Island straight to a hospital.
“At the moment, there are a couple of nurses, but if this goes ahead and all of the people are on the island then obviously the Health Department will respond accordingly.”
Other states are grappling with the same problem, as thousands of passengers aboard cruise ships remain stranded at sea.
The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said today she was in conversation with the Commonwealth to develop guidelines on how to deal with these ships.
Pharmacists given special authority
Mr Cook said new measures had also been put in place to make it easier to access some prescription medicines during the pandemic.
The measures give WA pharmacists special authority to supply ongoing prescription medicines during the state of emergency, to make it easier for those who rely on medication.
“It applies to patients already under treatment with a medicine, where their prescriptions have run out and it is not possible for them to get to a doctor to obtain a new prescription,” Mr Cook said.
“Under these circumstances if a pharmacist is satisfied that treatment is urgently needed, they may dispense a standard one-month quantity of the medicines.”
The State Government is also providing a $3 million fund for COVID-19 related research and is urging all WA-based researchers to apply before April 8.