NSW cases stay low as probe into Ruby Princess cruise begins

NSW Police searched the Ruby Princess at Port Kembla as part of their inquiry in April. Photo: NSW Police

NSW Police searched the Ruby Princess at Port Kembla as part of their inquiry in April. Photo: NSW Police Photo: NSW Police

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has vowed to do everything possible to get to the bottom of the Ruby Princess debacle – the cruise ship responsible for 19 COVID-19 deaths across Australia.

“It is important that answers are provided quickly for the people of NSW,” Ms Berejiklian said on Wednesday.

“We will leave no stone unturned until we find out exactly what happened.”

Grilled by Today show host Karl Stefanovic on Thursday, Ms Berejiklian said “what happened there was horrible and a number of state and federal agencies were involved … [and] the cruise company itself”.

Pressed by Stefanovic to do some “straight talking”, she conceded “a number of authorities should have stepped up and done better”.

“Are you sorry for what happened?” he asked.

“Of course. I am sorry for every person in Australia who has died because of this virus. Of course. I am human. You’re human. Everybody is sorry for what has happened. But we also want to make sure we’re able to deal with the facts,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Noted barrister Bret Walker SC is leading a special commission of inquiry into the Ruby Princess and is expected to report back within four months.

He will have unlimited power in the execution of his role.

The Ruby Princess, which docked in Sydney on March 19, has been linked to 19 coronavirus deaths and hundreds of cases across Australia.

Some 2700 passengers – including those who had reported flu-like symptoms – were permitted to disembark the ship without adequate health checks.

Federal border authorities blame the error on NSW Health.

Mr Walker will examine the ship’s departure and arrival, as well as the role of NSW and federal agencies and the cruise ship operator in its disembarkation.

The cruise is also subject to a police probe, with the potential for a coronial inquest.

There are now 140 crew aboard the Ruby Princess with confirmed cases of COVID-19. A further 12 crew members are in NSW hospitals.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said on Wednesday said the ship – which is docked at Port Kembla – could leave Australia by Sunday.

Authorities last week seized its black box and interviewed those on board.

On Thursday, Mr Fuller told The Australian police would look closely into the declaration of the captain and ship doctors about ill passengers on board.

In a full-page advertisement in The Australian on Thursday, Ruby Princess’ operator Princess Cruises said it fully supported all inquiries into the incident.

“There are no doubt important lessons to be learned as we seek to understand how the virus works and continue to adapt to a world with COVID-19,” Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz said in the advertisement.

Meanwhile, 11 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Thursday in NSW, taking the state’s total to 2897.

Some 26 people are being treated in intensive care but there were no new deaths recorded overnight. The NSW toll remains at 26.

Six staff and nine residents linked to the Anglicare’s Newmarch House aged-care facility in western Sydney had tested positive to the coronavirus by Thursday.

The cluster began after a Newmarch House employee worked six shifts at the age-care home with mild symptoms, primarily a sore throat, before testing positive to COVID-19.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, meanwhile, on Thursday pledged $100 million for rural and regional areas of the state to maintain jobs amid the pandemic. That includes $46 million for the Forestry Corporation of NSW.

-with AAP

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