The leader of Australia’s New South Wales state has apologised for failing to stop people carrying the novel coronavirus from disembarking from a cruise ship in Sydney in March, triggering what was at the time Australia’s worst outbreak.
The apology from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for her government’s poor handling of the outbreak on board the Ruby Princess came as the number of deaths from a second wave of infection in Victoria state hit a record 25 on Monday.
Australia has reported 23,500 COVID-19 cases and 421 deaths, far fewer than many other developed nations, but missteps in the handling of the Ruby Princess and possibly also with hotel quarantine in Victoria have proven costly.
“The lessons weren’t learned soon enough, and again I apologise unreservedly on behalf all of those individuals and agencies who made those mistakes,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
A public inquiry into the Ruby Princess outbreak concluded last week that NSW health officials made “inexcusable” mistakes when they allowed about 2,700 passengers, 120 of whom were feeling unwell, to leave the ship on March 19.
The inquiry found 914 infections could be traced back to the Ruby Princess, mostly among passengers. The outbreak led to 28 deaths.
Berejiklian apologised particularly to the 62 people who contracted the virus from a passenger.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like having a loved one or being someone yourself who continues to suffer and experience trauma as a result,” she said.
The inquiry, commissioned by Berejiklian’s government, found that NSW health officials failed to ensure that the ship knew of heightened screening for the virus, or that sick passengers were isolated in their cabins.
They also failed to get quick test results for unwell passengers before they disembarked.
An investigation by Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme, Australia’s Cruise Ship Nightmare, found that the management was aware of the risks but as the virus silently spread, passengers were reassured there was nothing to fear and the party continued.
“They just kept reassuring you all the time this ship is virus-free,” Tracey Temple, a passenger on the cruise ship, told Al Jazeera.
Australia saw its deadliest day from the pandemic on Monday, with 25 new deaths in the southeastern state of Victoria. Authorities also reported 282 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, about the same as the 279 infections reported on Sunday.