Australian officials say no cause for alarm as cruise ship docks with COVID onboard

Majestic Princess departed Sydney on Saturday, November 12th, as scheduled, despite a COVID-19 outbreak affecting 800 people during its last cruise.

Australian officials said there was no cause for alarm as the New South Wales health protocols in place were adequate to prevent transmission to the wider public.

NSW Health was the “lead agency for managing how they are going to assist the passengers and deal with disembarkation on a case-by-case basis,” Clare O’Neil, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister said on Saturday.

Majestic Princess pictured in Dubai in 2017

“I would say that there regular protocols and plays that have arisen out of the Ruby Princess,” O’Neil added.

She was referring to the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak aboard Ruby Princess, also in New South Wales, which saw 914 infections and 28 deaths.

The most recent outbreak aboard Majestic Princess has sparked immediate comparisons, but in 2020 none of the passengers were vaccinated, little was known about how the virus spreads, and health agencies had less knowledge of how to effectively treat it.

State health authorities rated the outbreak’s risk level at “Tier 3”, indicating a high level of transmission (more than 100 infections per 1,000 passengers).

Federal border force officers assisted state authorities in disembarking the more than 3,000 passengers and ensuring social distancing measures were in place for those infected, O’Neil told reporters in Melbourne.

Individuals infected with Covid are currently not required to isolate in Australian jurisdictions, but it is recommended they stay home while unwell. That has caused some concern for residents in Australia as relying on personal responsibility has proven to be inadequate in preventing community transmission of the virus.

According to a report in the journal Nature, quarantine of positive cases and their close contacts has a significant role in reducing transmission. The study found that periodic testing of close contacts could have the same affect, but Australia does not require testing for incoming travellers.

Marguerite Fitzgerald, President, Carnival Australia

Marguerite Fitzgerald, President, Carnival Australia, which operates Majestic Princess, said all cases were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and they had been warned to stay away from public transport.

“Much of this has been in planning for months,” she said. “We always knew that there was a risk that at some point we were going to see a surge in community transmission and that we would then see that on ship.”

Fitzgerald rejected comparisons between the outbreaks aboard Majestic Princess and Ruby Princess.

“That is nearly three years ago and, since then, we as a community have learned a lot, a lot more about Covid,” she said.

The outbreak comes as Covid-19 cases rise across Australia, reflecting community transmission of the Omicron variant XBB, the federal government said this week.

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