‘Airlocked’ Ruby Princess passengers allowed loose
BIOSECURITY officials have defended letting Tasmanians returning from cruising on the Ruby Princess back into the State sparking a cluster of infections.
Labor's Shane Broad - who said two of his wife's family members had died from COVID-19 - told a Budget Estimates hearing the cruise ship passengers, who arrived home on March 18 and 19, had been held in an airlock at Launceston Airport after being identified by biosecurity staff as travellers who may have been in international waters.
Staff then contacted the State Controller asking what they should do and were told to let the returning cruise ship passengers in.
They did not go into quarantine.
"The Ruby Princess matter was right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic," Biosecurity Tasmania director Rae Burrows told the hearing.
"We were not yet aware of the full ramifications of what had happened on the Ruby Princess. Decisions were made on the best information we had at the time and the decisions were made by the State Controller."
In another hearing, State Controller, Police Commissioner Darren Hine, took questions about the decision on notice.
The state government's interim report into what sparked the cluster of coronavirus infections in the state's North West found the hospitalisation of returning Ruby Princess passengers was likely "ground zero" of the deadly outbreak.
Tasmania's first three fatalities, including two people at the North West Regional Hospital, had been passengers aboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship which allowed disembarkation in Sydney before test results were returned.
Minister Guy Barnett said a full inquiry was now underway into what happened and the final report due to be handed to the government in the next few days.
"This is not about apportioning blame and this inquiry is about getting to the bottom of exactly what happened,' Mr Barnett said.
The revelation about how the Ruby Princess passengers were allowed to return home without quarantine come as Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief Luke Martin warns the state will likely be welcoming cruise ships again "sooner rather than later."
"Right now, I do not think anyone can be 100 per cent certain when restrictions on cruising in Australia will be lifted, let alone when they will ease on cruise ships returning to Tasmania. But we can be certain cruising will return sooner rather than later," Mr Martin said.
"Limited sailings have begun in Europe, and major cruise liners have set their sights on a recommencement in 2021 in Australian domestic markets.
"A scan of booking sites - and TasPorts' schedule for 2021 and 2022 - shows the companies are bullish about their medium-term prospects and Tasmania as a destination.
"We have a rare opportunity as a destination to pause and think carefully about the future of cruising in Tasmania - and shape our aspirations for this market as part of the fabric of our diversified visitor economy. We must do this now because over the past few years we have experienced exponential growth in cruising."
Between 2012 and 2015, the number of cruise ship port calls in Tasmania averaged 60 visits a year. In just four years this number grew to 135 visits scheduled in 2019-20.
Burnie welcomed six cruise ships into the North West city in a week just before the state government suspended visits.
Burnie Mayor Steve Kons said he would have no choice but to welcome cruise liners back into port if the government allowed them to return.
"It's not up to me," he said.
"As long as they are undertaking the right procedures, the City of Burnie will abide by the government's decision."
Originally published as 'Airlocked' Ruby Princess passengers allowed loose