Qantas staff not told 100 cruise passengers were on flight
Airline staff on a Qantas flight carrying up to 100 passengers from a coronavirus-infected cruise ship only became aware of the high-risk situation half way between Sydney and the US.
A large number of passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which docked in Sydney Harbour on Thursday, flew home to Dallas, Texas on Friday, but Qantas only became aware of the group midway through the QF7 flight.
A Qantas spokesman said no one in the group had COVID-19 symptoms, but the airline was now working with Australian Border Force officials to identify any remaining Ruby Princess passengers trying to leave Sydney.
The Daily Telegraph understands a group of passengers from the ship who travelled to Adelaide displayed flu-like symptoms at the time.
A Qantas worker said local staff had identified the group as having been on the Ruby Princess, but the airline's spokesman said there were no reports of any unwell passengers on that flight.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday moved to end the blame game between NSW Health and ABF over why almost 2,700 people - at least 18 of whom have now tested positive for coronavirus - were allowed to get off the Ruby Princess in Sydney.
"People are working under extreme stress, often with limited information and we are going to support those people to make the best decisions they can," he said.
"Other states could face the same situation and you always learn from these situations and I thank all of those, whether it is the NSW government or Commonwealth government and I'm confident those issues will be addressed in the future."
NSW Health has hit back at suggestions passengers on the Ruby Princess were not assessed, adding that authorities would now force cruise ships to stay at the port until coronavirus test results were known rather than allowing them to sail on.
"Contrary to some public statements made, every cruise liner that has entered NSW ports has been the subject of an assessment well beyond federal requirements," a NSW Health spokesman said.
"NSW Health ... followed the National Protocol that states 'the ship may be allowed to continue the voyage while samples are being tested'.
"However, as of midnight March 22, NSW Health will go even further beyond the National Protocol and its current own State protocols and will hold all cruise ships in port until any patients highlighted as having respiratory issues are tested for COVID-19."
As health authorities continue to trace passengers from the Ruby Princess, the federal government is in the final stages of planning a rescue flight for at least 280 Australians stranded on another ship - the Norwegian Jewel - in the Pacific.
After being refused port in multiple countries, the Norwegian Jewel is expected to land in Hawaii, with Australian authorities hopeful passengers will be allowed to disembark and fly home.
"We are working with US authorities … to enable Australians on board the Norwegian Jewel to disembark at Honolulu and continue their travel to Australia from there," a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said.
"We are also discussing options for Australian passengers to disembark at an alternative port if that becomes necessary."
Australian Sally Potts, whose parents John and Margaret Potts are on board the cruise liner, said the pair were "coping fine," but "starting to get a little stressed the closer they get to Hawaii".
Ms Potts said she had asked the government to provide a charter flight for the Australians on board.
"We will do what it takes, of course," she said.
Mr Morrison said situations where large groups of Australians were trapped, such as those on the Norwegian Jewel, or people in Peru, were the first priority for emergency charter flights.
Originally published as Qantas staff not told 100 cruise passengers were on flight