September 22, 2022

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Chairs marking infected cabins and handwashing monitors at buffets were just some of the strategies used to try and tackle a COVID-19 outbreak of more than 100 people on board the Coral Princess cruise ship, a passenger says.
Victorian woman Alice Burns was on board the cruise ship for seven days, before disembarking on Sunday in Brisbane. 

Burns said passengers were aware COVID-19 had been spreading for days, but were informed on Sunday that both staff and passengers had tested positive.

Alice Burns (left) pictured before she embarked on a seven-day cruise on the Coral Princess.
Alice Burns (left) pictured before she embarked on a seven-day cruise on the Coral Princess. (Supplied: Alice Burns)

Disembarking from Brisbane on Sunday, the cruise continued on with its voyage, travelling down the coast towards Sydney yesterday.

Burns said she was disappointed the cruise operators chose not to stop the cruise on Sunday when it became apparent the COVID-19 outbreak had spread. 

“They definitely knew they were at the start of an outbreak and they should not have reloaded the ship when we got off,” she said. 

“They knew this ship was going down, oh my god, they so knew it.”

NSW Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said just over 100 crew and four passengers were now infected on the ship.

It is the first coronavirus outbreak for the local cruise industry since it restarted voyages after an enforced two-year hiatus.

The Coral Princess is a sister ship to the Ruby Princess, which was linked to 28 deaths after passengers became infected with coronavirus in 2020.

There are now about 100 crew and four passengers infected with COVID-19 on board the ship.
There are now about 100 crew and four passengers infected with COVID-19 on board the ship. (Supplied: Alice Burns)

The Coral Princess’s operator offered refunds to the more than 2000 passengers before it sailed from Brisbane to Sydney yesterday, but it is understood most turned them down and remained aboard.

Carnival Cruises said all COVID-19 health protocols were being followed. 

“Cases identified are overwhelmingly among crew who were isolated on board in line with the protocols that have effectively supported the resumption of cruising in Australia since May,” a spokesperson said.

“Under the protocols, all crew must be fully vaccinated and we also regularly conduct surveillance testing of all crew. 

“Some recorded positive tests in a recent full screening and were isolated and have no contact with guests.

“These crew members are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.”

NSW Health today introduced a new rule for the ship, saying passengers will only be allowed to disembark at scheduled destinations – which includes the town of Eden on the NSW South Coast – if they test negative on a rapid antigen test.

“Crew members will be unable to leave,” Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

“Face masks will be required in settings for those passengers who are on that vessel.”

In line with health regulations, all passengers on the Coral Princess were required to test negative on a rapid antigen test and declare a negative result before initially boarding the vessel. 

However, Burns said passengers were not asked to show any evidence of their negative test.

“They took everyone’s word for it that they did not have COVID, you just tick a box and you’re fine,” she said.

“They also didn’t take your temperature when you got on the ship.”

The Coral Princess cruise ship is battling a COVID-19 outbreak. (Today)

Four days into the cruise, Burns said she heard some people on board had tested positive and were being confined to their rooms.

“There was one room on our floor. They had COVID and so they were locked in their room and staff had put a stool at the door just to remind everyone to stay away, or to make sure no-one accidentally walked in there,” she said.

Burns said it was clear efforts had been made to minimise the risk of infections on board, especially when it came to the buffet, but the measures could have been taken further.

“There was actually a wash station there where you had to soap up and wash your hands,” she said.

“They had someone monitoring this and you weren’t allowed in there unless you had a mask on. 

“Once you grab your food, you sit down at your table and take your mask off and then when you’re walking around back in there, you put your mask back on, so you were masked up the whole time, except for when you were eating and drinking or outside.”

Burns said she was surprised, however, that there were no glass coverings on the front of the buffet and that passengers were allowed to help themselves to food.

“I was sort of thinking that they would have a glass in front and they would have staff serving the passengers but it was still open slather in the eating area,” she said.

McAnulty said passengers should be aware of the risks if they go on a cruise and suggested it was inevitable there would be outbreaks.

“We know there’s going to be COVID and flu cases on ships,” he said.

He said there are protocols in place on ships such as testing, treatment and isolation.

He said there are signals including red, amber and green used to indicate cases on cruise ships.

The Coral Princess is now classed as “amber”.

More than 100 passengers and staff aboard the Coral Princess cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19. (Nine)

The ship is coming into Sydney tomorrow but he couldn’t say if passengers would be tested before getting off.

He said the incubation period might mean that rapid tests didn’t pick up cases earlier.

All passengers have to take a RAT – and vaccinated – to travel but don’t have to prove it, aside from completing an online declaration.

“It’s not surprising, I guess that’s part of the information we all need to know, it’s not a fail-safe system,” McAnulty said.

McAnulty was asked to respond to calls on talkback radio which said the ship should not be allowed to dock.

He said there was already a “surge” of cases in the community so there was no reason for that measure.

“COVID is here. We’ve got to live with COVID. People chose to go on cruises, there are many many places COVID is, cruises are just one of them,” he said.

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