By ALEC SMART
In a startling new revelation, passengers on the infamous death ship Ruby Princess, the luxury cruise liner responsible for over 850 – more than 10 per cent – of Australia’s total Covid-19 cases, were warned that they might also have been exposed to tuberculosis (TB) while on board.
In a letter dated 30 May, the Assistant Director of Communicable Diseases, Christine Selvey, of the NSW Ministry of Health, notified all passengers who went on the ill-fated 8-19 March 2020 voyage (responsible for most of the coronavirus infections), that a crew member of the Ruby Princess was recently diagnosed with TB.
The letter warned passengers: “This crew member is currently a patient being treated in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney and was diagnosed many weeks after you were on the cruise.”
Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital in Camperdown is where Covid-19 infected passengers and crew from the Ruby Princess were treated throughout March and April 2020.
In total, 190 of Ruby Princess’ 1150 crew, and 662 of the 2647 passengers aboard tested positive for Covid-19, which led to an additional 11 cases via secondary transmission.
22 of those who tested positive have since died.
Ms Selvey reassured passengers that their risk of contracting TB on the cursed cruise was minimal. “Most importantly, there is no reason to believe you are at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis from being on the cruise ship. You do not need to take any action as a result of this information, and you do not need to be screened at this time. However, we want to let you know of the situation to allay any concerns.”
On 19 March, the cruise ship Ruby Princess hurriedly disembarked 2647 passengers into the heart of Sydney at Circular Quay’s Overseas Passengers Terminal – all but 12 of whom were allowed to disperse into the general population without tests or quarantine.
Unlike coronavirus, which lingers on surfaces and remains highly communicable for many hours after it has left its host, TB, a respiratory disease that also primarily targets the lungs, is significantly less infectious.
“Tuberculosis is spread from a person with active disease after close and prolonged contact with that person, rather than casual exposure,” the letter confirmed.
Although TB is the second-most common death attributable to infectious disease (after HIV/AIDS) and it can survive in a dry state for several weeks, the mycobacterium has an extremely slow reproduction rate compared with other bacteria.
About 90% of those who test positive with TB have asymptomatic ‘latent’ (non-contagious) infections, with only a 10% lifetime chance that the latent mycobacterium will progress to active TB. One quarter of the world’s population is thought to have latent TB.
Ruby, don’t take your lungs to town
Ruby Princess will forever be associated with the import of primary coronavirus cases into Sydney when the worldwide pandemic first took hold in Australasia. And yet, unbeknown to many – and revealed by City Hub at the time – three other coronavirus cruise ships also arrived within 48 hours of Ruby Princess.
These were: Voyager of the Seas (March 18), Celebrity Solstice (March 18) and Ovation of the Seas (March 20) – all three discharging Covid-19 infected passengers that were similarly fast-tracked ashore and went on to contaminate others.
The NSW Dept of Health is suspected to be ultimately responsible for the Ruby Princess debacle, with many wondering why NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard didn’t resign in disgrace.
However, inquiries are currently underway to determine whether negligence or criminality played a part in the ship’s rapid docking and disembarkation. Or perhaps, as one theory suggested, a NSW Minister, whose in-laws were allegedly on board the cruise (along with members of their Hillsong Church congregation), asserted political influence to ensure passengers were fast-tracked ashore.
On 5 April 2020, NSW Police launched a criminal investigation into the Australian subsidiary of Carnival Cruises, the operator of the Ruby Princess, to determine whether they broke NSW state laws and the Biosecurity Act 2015 by deliberately concealing COVID-19 cases. The ship’s voyage data recorder was seized by NSW Police for inspection.
Carnival holds executive control over the Princess Cruises brand that manage a fleet of 18 passenger vessels utilising the name ‘Princess’ (with four more ships in construction). Among those 18, nine feature in the ‘Grand Class’ that includes Ruby Princess and Diamond Princess, the latter of which was also at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak in January 2020.
On 4 February 2020 the Diamond Princess was quarantined in the Port of Yokohama, Japan, and detained until 30 March when it was cleared to sail again. At least 712 out of the 3,711 passengers and crew tested positive for the coronavirus. 14 later died from the disease.
On 15 April 2020 the NSW Govt announced a Special Commission of Inquiry to investigate events surrounding the Ruby Princess. It is scheduled to report by 14 August 2020.