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COVID-19 cruise ship Coral Princess to dock in NSW as testing policy changes

A cruise ship with a huge COVID-19 outbreak among crew and passengers will arrive in New South Wales today as the state government announces a key change to its reinfection policy. 

A cruise ship with a COVID-19 outbreak among crew and passengers will arrive in New South Wales today as the state government announces a key change to its reinfection policy.

Key points:
  • Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, says the new, more infectious sub-variants present "another curve ball"
  • About 100 people on board the Coral Princess have so far tested positive to COVID-19 ahead of it docking in NSW
  • There are currently 2,049 infected patients in hospital across the state, with 58 in intensive care

Queensland Health said about 100 people on board the Carnival Australia ship, Coral Princess, had tested positive to the virus since it left Brisbane on Sunday. 

The ship with more than 2,300 guests and crew onboard, is due to dock in Eden on the NSW South Coast on Tuesday, the first cruise liner to return to the town since COVID-19 shut the industry down two years ago.

The ship is also scheduled to be in Sydney for one day on Wednesday.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said some passengers with the virus had left the ship to quarantine, while others were isolating as per normal protocol.

A spokesman for Carnival Australia said there was no outbreak among passengers, but a recent screening found some crew recorded positive tests and were placed in isolation away from passengers. 

"Our passengers are looking forward to the visit to Eden and supporting local businesses and tour operators after such a long time," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the number of cases identified by Queensland Health were “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".

Balconies on a cruise ship with the words Balconies on a cruise ship with the words
The Coral Princess is due to dock in Eden on Tuesday. (Reuters: Marco Bello)

However, one passenger, Wendy, told ABC Brisbane she tested positive on board, and was not told about positive cases on board the ship until the night before she disembarked in Brisbane.

"That night, my husband started feeling ill, he had the chills and so now he's still sick coughing," Wendy said.

"I had a terrible night, I've been coughing all night. It definitely isn't the dream holiday."

Wendy said some guests on board the cruise ship wore masks, while others did not.

"There was a lot of people coughing, and when we boarded, they were coughing in the line that we were waiting at the cruise terminal," she said.

Wendy said guests were expected to wash their hands before going to the buffet, but the crew were not always around to monitor. 

"The buffet, unbelievably, is still in operation and you serve yourself," she said.

"There's thongs, but if you touch your face or you cough, there's no glass covering the food — I think that should have been canned straight away."

On July 9, a passenger received a letter while on the cruise, alerting them to a breakout of COVID amongst crew.

"We would like to notify you of elevated positive case numbers amongst crew members currently aboard Coral Princess," the letter said. 

"We continue to test all crew members and isolate any that return a positive result along with their close contacts."

The outbreak comes as NSW Health announced its official reinfection period was being revised from 12 weeks down to four weeks, as the latest sub-variants of Omicron circulate in the community.

It means that people who develop symptoms any time after 28 days from their last COVID-19 isolation period may have caught the virus again and must take a test.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the reduced reinfection period follows advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

"The Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants are circulating widely in New South Wales," Dr Chant said. 

"They are more able to evade immunity gained from previous infection and vaccination reinfection is more likely and possible just weeks after a prior infection."

Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, said the new more infectious sub-variants were proving more likely to reinfect someone within a shorter period.

"It is yet another curve ball that has been given to us by this virus," Professor Kelly said.

There are currently 2,049 infected patients in hospital in NSW, with 58 in intensive care.

A Carnival Cruises spokesman said it had asked its passengers disembarking in Eden today to wear a mask where appropriate, and be mindful of the local community.

NSW Health said it was liaising with the Coral Princess cruise ship to monitor the health of its passengers and crew members. 

No crew members will disembark and all passengers disembarking will be requested to return a negative RAT result first.

Dr Chant said that, while most cases of COVID-19 were mild, some members of the community were at a risk of severe infection and might be able to access antiviral medications to treat their infections.

It comes as NSW Health has recently expanded its vaccination program, offering a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to anyone over 30 years of age who wants one, and recommending it for those aged over 50.

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Posted 2h ago2 hours agoTue 12 Jul 2022 at 12:17am, updated 1h ago1 hours agoTue 12 Jul 2022 at 1:37am

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