Ministers at war over who let sick passengers off cruise
The federal and state governments are at war over how thousands of cruise passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney, including unwell people who have since tested positive for coronavirus.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has admitted his staff made a mistake by disembarking the passengers, who have now spread across the country.
Authorities are now scrambling to contact every passenger to check their health, after Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram rang the NSW government to "ensure they are fully aware of their responsibilities", federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
The debacle marks another fracture in the troubled relationship between the NSW and federal governments, which clashed over the bushfire response earlier this year.
Senior government sources revealed Mr Hazzard and Mr Hunt exchanged strong words over the issue, with NSW refusing to take all the blame.
Ovation of the Seas passengers Faye Wheatley, 67, and her husband Colin Wheatley, 72, lashed federal officials from Australian Border Force for not taking more precautions.
"We would have isolated if we had to, but the captain and immigration said everything was fine," Mrs Wheatley said. "Border Force said we didn't have to do any isolation."
Four cruise ships - Ovation of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Ruby Princess and Celebrity Solstice - docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay in the past fortnight and let off thousands of passengers. Each ship has now been found to have harboured coronavirus.
Ten of the passengers tested positive to COVID-19 and there are fears others could be unknowingly spreading the virus throughout the community.
Eight of the 10 known to be infected are still in NSW and two yesterday tested positive in the Northern Territory.
Mr Hazzard yesterday said officials should not have let the passengers disembark.
"With the benefit of what we now know, I would have said we should hold them on board the ship," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced a 30-day ban on all foreign cruise ships docking in Australia, but the federal government made an exemption for four ships which were already on their way.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt laid the blame on NSW for failing to order passengers who displayed flu-like symptoms to self-isolate or stay on the ship.
The passengers were tested for COVID-19, but it was only after the results came back yesterday that they were ordered into isolation.
"This is an absolute debacle," NSW Labor's shadow treasurer Walt Secord said.
"Now we're chasing our tails and I just hope and pray they can make contact with every single person that was on those ships, who have already returned to their families."
A senior federal cabinet minister said Western Australia and Victoria had not made the same mistakes.
"State health authorities determine who and when people get off," the minister said.
"They let them off before they did the tests and no other state has done that. That's their job. They are not going to do it again. All the other states are completely on top of it."
A crew member with coronavirus is still aboard the Ruby Princess, and three passengers are in NSW hospitals with the virus after disembarking on Thursday.
A New Zealand man who travelled on Celebrity Solstice between Auckland and Dunedin earlier this month tested positive, and the ship arrived in Sydney to let passengers off yesterday.
Originally published as Ministers at war over who let sick passengers off cruise