An Australian cruise ship, the Ruby Princess, which left New Zealand five days ago, has had three Australian passengers and one crew member test positive for COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health is in the process of contacting the 56 New Zealanders who were on board the ship. The advice will be to be vigilant and contact their GP or Healthline if they display any COVID-19 symptoms.
The cruise ship departed Sydney on 8 March and returned 2 days ago on the 18th. Any passengers on the cruise, who have since returned to New Zealand would be covered by the requirement since 15 March for all travellers returning to New Zealand to go into self-isolation for 14 days.
The Ministry is working with Customs and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade to check which New Zealanders on board have now returned to New Zealand.
As an additional step, all those returned passengers will now be treated as close contacts and followed up with daily health checks.
The ship carried around 2700 passengers and 1,100 crew. It is understood from an initial report that 56 of the passengers were New Zealanders.
The ship travelled to Fiordland (11 March), Dunedin (12 March), Akaroa (13 March), Wellington (14 March) and Napier (15 March). The cruise was shortened after visiting Napier, for weather reasons, and the ship returned directly to Sydney and passengers disembarked on the 18th.
The Ministry of Health is working through the itinerary of local visits undertaken by passengers to see if there are other precautionary steps that need to be taken.
Ministry staff will also be working with their counterparts in Australia to determine – from the four cases with COVID-19 – any other possible close contacts in New Zealand that will be contacted, put into self-isolation and tested if showing symptoms.
Passengers are not allowed to disembark the ship if they are unwell or showing signs of illness when it docks. While in Wellington, there were a small number of passengers on board at the time with flu-like symptoms, and five passengers were tested in Wellington for COVID-19 on March 14. These people never left the ship in Wellington. The results from those tests were negative.
One of the confirmed cases announced today – the Auckland man in his 60s – was also on an Australian cruise on the Celebrity Solstice around New Zealand.
He joined the cruise in Auckland on 10 March and departed the cruise in Dunedin – before he returned separately to Auckland.
The ship visited Tauranga (Mar 11), Picton (Mar 13), Akaroa (Mar 14), Port Chalmers (Mar 15) and leaving from Fiordland on Mar 16.
Our public health staff will be working with their counterparts in Australia to give details of the activities of the passenger while on board the cruise to assist the Australian health services in the follow up they're undertaking there.
The ship arrived in Sydney this morning and any New Zealanders on board returning to New Zealand will be regarded as close contacts, put in self-isolation and monitored daily.
Every person who was on that cruise who is now in New Zealand needs to self-isolate now and register online with Healthline and will be followed up as a close contact. If any passenger has symptoms they should call Healthline 0800 358 5453 for advice.
As of midnight 14 March all cruise ships were banned from coming to New Zealand until at least 30 June 2020. Ships already in New Zealand waters were permitted to conclude their itinerary.
Peter Abernethy: 021 366 111