A Shoalhaven couple who were on the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise and have both since tested positive for coronavirus say there were no warnings onboard about a possible outbreak of the disease.
The couple, both in their 70s, who wish to remain anonymous, count themselves lucky, as they have now recovered and have been cleared of the illness.
They underwent mandatory isolation practices at home, but considering the number of passengers on the cruise who have since died of the virus, feel they have "dodged a bullet".
"There was no information, nothing at all onboard about a possible outbreak of the virus," the husband said.
"We still had about three ports to go on the trip around New Zealand and were just told we were heading home.
"We just assumed Australia had closed its borders to overseas travellers so everyone was ordered home.
"At no stage was there any mention of the virus, we didn't see or hear of anyone being sick.
"There was no isolation, no self-distancing recommendations, nothing.
"We'd already been ashore at a number of NZ ports and had been off board doing the tourist things, as you do."
He said the ship didn't get into Sydney Harbour until 2am as they had to wait for another "big ship" was "already in the terminal".
He said he was ready to be tested before disembarking but nothing happened.
"We just strolled off the ship about 8am," he said "there was nothing - I was a bit dumbfounded by it all."
The man said there were about three or four local couples on the cruise.
"We caught a cab to central and then a bus back to Nowra," he said.
It wasn't until the following evening that his wife started suffering a severe headache.
There was no information, nothing at all onboard about a possible outbreak of the virus.
"It was migraine-like," he said " and she doesn't suffer migraines.
"We took her to hospital and she tested positive to the virus.
"Despite not having any symptoms myself, I was also tested and returned a positive result.
"I can fully understand how that poor woman who works at the nursing home and tested positive after going to work for days feels.
"She said she just felt fatigued and put that down to working seven days a week.
"I didn't even have that. I felt fine.
"I can fully understand why she worked on."
His wife was offered to stay in isolation in hospital but decided to recover at home.
At no stage was there any mention of the virus, we didn't see or hear of anyone being sick. There was no isolation, no self-distancing recommendations, nothing.
"There was really nothing they could give her other than heavy-duty headache pills," he said.
"She just had to ride it out. She had a headache on an off for about a week.
"We both isolated at home. The kids dropped groceries around on the front lawn.
"Thankfully we were able to do that rather than having to stay in a cabin on the ship for another 14 days or in a motel in Sydney.
"We've both been cleared and given a letter of clearance. And we are very, very lucky - there have been so many people who have died.
"But the reaction from people has been interesting - even though we are clear, people shy away from us.
"It's like being a leper."
He described the hysteria since the story broke as a "comedy in action".
"When did they get the virus, when did they know about it?
"We were originally supposed to board the ship around 1pm but weren't allowed on until 8pm and were later told that was because the ship needed a major clean.
"Apparently that had been ordered by the health department.
"So had there been a case or cases on the previous cruise? We've since heard there was.
"Another fellow on the cruise said he had seen an ambulance pulled up next to the ship before we were allowed to board - mind you that could have been for anything.
"We were told none of that. It's all very murky."
The couple is hoping that they have now built up an immunity to the virus and won't "catch it" again later.
"That's what we've been told," he said.
And as for any future cruising?
"We've done a few over the years and the company has offered us all sorts of other deals but my wife's having none of it.
"Our cruising days are over."
Thankfully we were able to isolate at home rather than having to stay in a cabin on the ship for another 14 days or in a motel in Sydney.
Meanwhile, police have launched Strike Force Bast investigating the incident and have appealed for assistance from passengers from the last two voyages of the Ruby Princess to assist with ongoing inquiries.
Detectives from across State Crime, Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics and Marine Area Commands are conducting inquiries surrounding the docking and disembarking of the Ruby Princess at Sydney Harbour on Thursday, March 19.
The priority of the investigation is to determine whether there was criminal negligence by the company or crew relevant to health issues prevailing on the ship, as well as any actions or omissions by any other entity, including NSW or Commonwealth departments, which may have directly or indirectly related to the death of a person from COVID-19.
This would include the nature of - and deficiencies in - decision-making processes both on-board and on-shore surrounding the management of the vessel, and its crew and passengers.
I can fully understand how that poor woman who works at the nursing home and tested positive after going to work for days feels. She said she just felt fatigued and put that down to working seven days a week. I didn’t even have that. I felt fine.
Strike Force Bast will refer any and all information relevant to jurisdictional responsibilities to the Special Commission of Inquiry.
Information relevant to the circumstances surrounding the deaths of people who either contracted COVID-19 on board the vessel or through contact with a passenger will be reported to the NSW Coroner's Court in due course.
Strike force investigators will also reach out in coming days to passengers from both the February 24 to March 8 and March 8-19 voyages to conduct a similar survey, which will help prioritise the order in which statements are obtained.
The manifests list passengers from across the globe, including 2995 people on the first voyage and 2647 people on the second voyage - many with travel agents as their primary contact - and at this time, investigators are making their way through the list contacting via email and text.
They will be provided a link to an online questionnaire, which will provide the information directly to Strike Force Bast. This Initial triage will assist with prioritising key witnesses for a timely investigative response.
All passengers who receive the investigator's electronic survey request are encouraged to complete it as soon as possible.
Passengers who have not received the survey by next Friday (April 24) should register their best contact details with Crime Stoppers online at https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au, which will assist with establishing a direct contact within the strike force and ensuring the timely recording of relevant information.
Anyone who has information relevant to the investigation, including details of symptoms, illness, or medical advice during the voyage is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au.
The community is reminded that their information is treated in strict confidence.
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