The Ruby Princess inquiry found multiple mistakes by NSW Health. Picture: The Australian/Simon Bullard
The Ruby Princess inquiry found multiple mistakes by NSW Health. Picture: The Australian/Simon Bullard

‘I apologise’: Premier responds to Ruby Princess findings

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has apologised for mistakes made by NSW Health that led to the Ruby Princess COVID-19 outbreak.

The apology followed findings of a special commission of inquiry into the cruise ship released on Friday which detailed NSW Health's role in allowing the cruise ship to dock in Sydney on March 19.

More than 2500 passengers disembarked at Circular Quay before coronavirus test results had come back, leading to 28 deaths and hundreds of COVID-19 cases across Australia.

"Over the weekend I reviewed the Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess, and it is clear mistakes were made by NSW Health and others," Ms Berejiklian said.

"I recognise the hurt and suffering these mistakes caused, and I apologise for that."

The inquiry into the debacle found NSW Health made a serious mistake when rating the Ruby Princess cruise ship as a low COVID-19 risk, a decision "as inexplicable as it is unjustifiable".

But Commissioner Bret Walker SC did not recommend anyone should be sacked in his final report on the scandal that has been linked to 900 confirmed coronavirus infections and 28 deaths.

Mr Walker said a NSW Health expert panel deemed the Ruby Princess a low biosecurity risk, allowing nearly 2,700 people to leave the vessel at Circular Quay on March 19 without proper health checks.

That was despite pending coronavirus swabs, a decision the commissioner labelled "as inexplicable as it is unjustifiable."

"It was a serious mistake," he said.

Mr Walker stressed that NSW Health made the operative decision to green light disembarkation, which was clumsily communicated to a federal department of agriculture biosecurity officer who granted the ship permission to dock.

"Neither the (Australian Border Force) nor any ABF officers played any part in the mishap," Mr Walker said.

Mr Walker said it was "inexcusable" that NSW Health laboratory testing for the 15 coronavirus swabs was delayed because they were not flagged as a priority.

"Those swabs should have been tested immediately," he said.

NSW Health workers did not board the ship to test sick guests while confining suspect cases to their cabins, something the commissioner condemned as a "serious failure."

Mr Walker said the decision to allow passengers to onward travel interstate and internationally after disembarkation did not comply with state COVID-19 laws, and the government should have arranged suitable accommodation for all non NSW residents.

The commissioner said Carnival should have informed guests and crew there were suspect cases on board, and ordered them to isolate in their cabins.

And the ship's doctor ought to have updated NSW Health about a significant spike in illnesses, which Mr Walker labelled an "oversight."

The commissioner has also previously slammed the woefully inadequate COVID-19 testing rates during the ill-fated round trip to New Zealand.