Ruby Princess passengers warned after crew member tests positive to tuberculosis

By Calla Wahlquist

Passengers on the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship have been sent another warning from the New South Wales health department, that they could have been exposed to tuberculosis.

The Ruby Princess voyage that arrived in Sydney on 19 March is responsible for about 10% of all coronavirus infections in Australia, and the bungled management of the outbreak has sparked two separate inquiries.

On Saturday, passengers on the ship received a letter from NSW Health warning them that a crew member who worked on the voyage had tested positive to tuberculosis this week.

The letter, from the health department’s acting director of communicable diseases, Dr Christine Selvey, told passengers there was “no reason to believe you are at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis from being on the cruise ship”.

Cameron Price (@campricenews)

BREAKING: Passengers onboard the Ruby Princess have been told of a new health warning, a case of Tuberculosis onboard. Crew member currently in hospital for COVID-19 tested positive last week. @7NewsSydney pic.twitter.com/IVFH34uywz

May 30, 2020

Selvey said passengers did not need to get screened at this time but had been informed to “allay any concerns”.

“Passengers on the ship are at very low risk of infection,” she said.

The crew member was diagnosed at the Royal Prince Alfred hospital in Sydney this week, and remains in hospital for treatment. There is some infection risk to hospital workers, friends and people who had prolonged contact with the person.

It comes as scientists in Queensland were preparing to sift through the sewage of a central Queensland town to try to find the source of a Covid-19 infection that claimed the life of 30-year-old Nathan Turner.

Turner is the youngest person in Australia to die after testing positive to Covid-19 but the source of his infection is unknown. Queensland has recorded no new cases of coronavirus on Saturday and just six active cases.

Testing the sewage could also reveal how many people in Blackwater may have been exposed or unknowingly have the virus if traces are detected in the waste.

Investigators in Queensland are working to “untangle” the changing story of a nurse at the centre of two coronavirus scares in Queensland to determine if she could be the source.

The unnamed nurse has been suspended after she continued to show up for work at a Rockhampton nursing home despite having symptoms, and while waiting on test results.

Sign up for Guardian Australia’s daily coronavirus email newsletter

Questions are also being asked about a sightseeing road trip she took to Blackwater during the lockdown after Turner died with the virus.

The deputy premier and health minister, Steven Miles, said a formal investigation would get to the bottom of critical questions, such as why the nurse did not reveal she had travelled to Kuala Lumpur in March.

“It appears to be incredibly unlikely that somebody wasn’t asked if they had travelled overseas when that is such a focus of our investigation efforts for all coronavirus cases,” Miles said.

Also on Saturday, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, and health spokesman, Chris Bowen, released a statement expressing “deep disappointment” at Donald Trump’s decision to cut all ties with the World Health Organization.

“The Australian government should urge the US to reconsider its decision and work with other member states to ensure adequate funding of the WHO to continue to perform its important role,” the statement said.

Quick guide Show Hide

Email: sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter

App: download it and never miss the biggest stories

Social: follow us on FacebookInstagram or Twitter 

Podcast: listen to our daily episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotify or search "Full Story" in your favourite app

Thank you for your feedback.

Meanwhile, the Australian Veterinary Association has written to the federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, to seek his assurance that he will not grant an extension of a live export licence after a shipment was delayed due to a coronavirus outbreak among the crew.

At least 20 people have tested positive to Covid-19 in connection to the outbreak on the Al-Kuwait ship, which arrived in Fremantle on 22 May. Under new live export rules introduced this year, live export of sheep to the Middle East is banned from 1 June to 14 September because of the risk of catastrophic heat stress on the animals in a metal hull in the northern hemisphere summer.

“We believe that the welfare risks to the animals are unacceptably high in June, and that no exemptions should be granted,” the AVA president, Dr Warwick Vale, said. “It is critical that the government upholds the regulations, to ensure that animal welfare standards during live export of sheep are in line with the expectations of the veterinary profession and the wider community.”

The RSPCA and Animals Australia have also said the licence should not be extended, with the RSPCA’s senior policy officer, Dr Jed Goodfellow, saying that the Perth-based live export company “took a very unreasonable risk in trying to rush out this last shipment so close to the deadline”.

In Victoria, a group of primary school students in Melbourne have been placed into home quarantine for two weeks after one member of the year two class at the Holy Eucharist primary school in St Albans tested positive to Covid-19. Other students from that class have been asked to quarantine.

The infection was linked to the previously reported outbreak at Keilor Downs secondary college.

Victoria recorded 11 new cases of Covid-19 overnight, three of which were linked to the Keilor Downs cluster and four to the outbreak at the Rydges hotel on Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD, where international travellers have been undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine. 

That brings the total number of staff at the Rydges who have tested positive to six after the first two security guards tested positive on Wednesday.

Thirteen people in international quarantine at the hotel have also tested positive.