Cops pinpoint death ship’s patient zero
Patient zero on the Ruby Princess cruise ship may have been working in the kitchen serving meals to hundreds of passengers who are now sick, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says.
The vessel, which departed Sydney on March 8 for New Zealand and returned on March 19, is responsible for hundreds of COVID-19 cases nationwide and at least 18 deaths after 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark at the harbourside terminal in Circular Quay.
Last weekend, NSW Police announced a criminal investigation to examine the docking and disembarkation of the vessel. It is being led by Homicide Squad Detective Chief Inspector Jason Dickinson.
Mr Fuller said today there have been 220 leads following their call-out to passengers, crew and anyone else with information, totalling up to "two months' work alone".
He said he would be advising NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian of the investigation's estimated length before her daily press conference on Tuesday morning but "at its best, we could have 2500 witnesses that police need to speak to in relation to this matter".
Asked on Monday if the primary source of the outbreak had been established, Mr Fuller said: "At this stage we would think that it was probably a crew member working in probably the galley," the Commissioner said.
"Someone who is serving food, someone that would get across a number of passengers for it to spread like it has.
"But again, that is not proven as fact yet, but that would seem to be the most obvious point of transmission is someone who is handling food on behalf of multiple hundreds of people."
The national coronavirus death toll in Australia reached 61 on Monday after the deaths of two more Ruby Princess passengers in Sydney.
A 74-year-old woman died in John Hunter Hospital and a 79-year-old man in the Northern Beaches Hospital.
NSW Health Acting Director Dr Christine Selvey today said both patients had caught the virus on board.
She said 66 crew members have tested positive to the coronavirus.
"All have mild symptoms and many are already close to recovery," NSW Health said in a statement on Monday.
"In addition, 11 who have been evacuated from the ship with COVID-19 remain in Sydney health facilities. Increased infection control measures have been implemented on the ship."
Mr Fuller said other staff who remain on the boat "do have corona-like symptoms".
"We're making every effort we can to get people home and we're working with Carnival in relation to that but there are some pretty big cohorts nationality-wise that are happy to stay on the ship, or certainly that is the information we're receiving through Carnival," he said on Monday.
He said a number of pregnant or sick crew members who couldn't be dealt with by the medical teams on the ship have been taken off and that will continue where necessary.
"If you are a passenger or a crew member or you have any information that may assist the police investigation, please call Crime Stoppers," Mr Fuller said.
When the criminal investigation was announced on April 8, the Commissioner said he had examined a number of phone calls between NSW Ambulance, NSW Port Authority and NSW Police "that stemmed from the initial 17-minute triple-0 call from the ship to NSW Ambulance" on March 18.
"There appears to have been an exceptional amount of effort put in by Ports to determine the true nature of the conditions on board - and even delayed the vessels arrival until they were provided additional information," he said.
"After reviewing the information at hand, the only way I can determine whether our national biosecurity laws or our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation."
That evening, specialist detectives boarded the vessel and spoke with a number of crew members. Police seized the voyage data recorder, or black box, and other "items of interest".
The number for Crime Stoppers is 1800 333 000.
Originally published as Cops pinpoint death ship's patient zero