The infamous Ruby Princess outbreak could have been avoided if federal government agents had done their jobs properly, according to a scorching review by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity.
A review requested by the Minister for Agriculture into Ruby Princess‘ disembarkation in Sydney on 19 March last year has revealed major errors and failures to follow procedure “are likely to have contributed to” the resulting outbreak.
According to Inspector-General Rob Delane’s findings, Department of Agriculture agents tasked with inspecting the ship failed to interview sick passengers despite the Prime Minister introducing strict screening processes for anyone entering the country who appeared sick on 15 March, in response to the global spread of COVID-19.
“This was a crucial error,” the review noted.
“If Agriculture had administered the traveller with illness checklist in the way intended, passenger disembarkation could have been appropriately managed to minimise the human health risk associated with the persons on board.”
Close to 2,700 people were allowed to leave the ship, some with cold and flu-like symptoms. A week later, 663 passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19 and 28 passengers have died.
The Review of at-border delivery of human biosecurity functions – Ruby Princess cruise ship incident issued by Delane in April, but was brought to public attention by the ABC’s 7.30 last night.
It points out a spate of failings in the department’s management of biosecurity functions including “miscommunication and poor understanding” of the roles of multiple government agencies” and a lack of accountability for the upkeep of biosecurity regulations.
In particular, it said that many recommendations from a 2018 audit of procedures for arriving ships were not acted upon.
“This potentially contributed to the Ruby Princess cruise ship incident,” the review said.
“Too often, officers and managers use make-do and work-around approaches to deliver something like the desired result. However, those approaches may be inconsistent with the Act and Agriculture’s policies and procedures.”
The Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, told ABC News that while his department could improve, it was not alone in the blame.
“In essence, the Ruby Princess was a failing of NSW Health,” Littleproud said.
In August 2020, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess handed in its findings, in which commissioner Brett Walker slammed NSW Health for its “inexcusable” and “inexplicable” mistakes.
Not long after the findings were released, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian apologised “unreservedly to anyone who has suffered as a result of the mistakes that were outlined in the report undertaken by individuals within the health department of the health agency”.
“I extend that apology unreservedly in particular to the 62 people who got the virus in a secondary or tertiary way,” Berejiklian said.
Featured image source: iStock.com/Photoservice