Qantas has expressed its frustration after genomic sequencing traced a cluster of COVID-19 cases that emerged in Western Australia to one of their flights.
Qantas has expressed its frustration after genomic sequencing traced a cluster of COVID-19 cases that emerged in Western Australia to one of their flights.

Ruby Princess passengers spread COVID on flight to Perth

Only hours after NSW Health gave the green light for passengers on-board the virus-riddled Ruby Princess to dock at Sydney Harbour, 13 of its passengers unknowingly took the deadly virus on a flight to Perth.

Researchers from Western Australia have used genomic sequencing to trace how 29 of the passengers on the five-hour Qantas flight, who would later test positive for COVID-19, contracted the virus.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship departs from Port Kembla in NSW after passengers disembarked in Sydney. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
The Ruby Princess cruise ship departs from Port Kembla in NSW after passengers disembarked in Sydney. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Their findings, published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, found at least eight cases - possibly up to 11 - were contracted on board the flight, which was carrying at least 60 cruise passengers, most from the Ruby Princess and Ovation of the Seas.

The researchers found at least 29 people who had been on board the March 19 Qantas flight, which was carrying 60 cruise ship passengers, would later test positive for COVID-19.

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At least eight people - possibly up to 11 - caught the virus on board flight QF577, which may have been carrying a potential superspreader.

Of the 243 passengers on board QF577, 28 were Ruby Princess passengers, 13 were carrying the virus and of that group 11 were infectious.

Also on board were 30 Ovation of the Seas Passengers, who had arrived in Sydney the previous day. Of that group, four had COVID-19 and one person was infectious.

 

Qantas medical director Dr Ian Hosegood said the findings presented the only confirmed example of transmission on board a Qantas flight and described the incident as "deeply frustrating" for the airline.

"We had no idea that at least 60 passengers had come off the Ruby Princess and other ships where COVID was already spreading. Had we known, they would have been stopped from travelling," Dr Hosegood said.

"As has been established by the special inquiry, the moment Qantas became aware that Ruby Princess passengers had been released and were travelling by air, we asked repeatedly for the manifest in a bid to stop these same passengers boarding any of our domestic or international flights."

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"But we were told by the Department of Health that the manifest could not be provided for privacy reasons. These passengers should have been in self-isolation at home or in a hotel."

Qantas corporate affairs officer Andrew McGinnes said that they were "very sorry that our customers and crew were put in this position".

He added that a month earlier, Qantas had operated a repatriation flight for Australians stranded off Japan on the Diamond Princess, and that there was no transmission on that flight with strict infection control protocols in place.

Qantas passengers wearing face masks to adhere to the airline’s COVID-19 rules. Picture: Qantas
Qantas passengers wearing face masks to adhere to the airline’s COVID-19 rules. Picture: Qantas

Dr Hosegood said the passengers should have been in self-isolation at home or in a hotel and that Qantas and Jetstar provided masks for passengers flying in and out of known hot spots, and masks are encouraged on all other flights.

"We have also introduced a formal health acknowledgment to ensure that passengers do not travel if they are unwell or have had possible exposure to COVID-19," Dr Hosegood said.

"It's fair to say a lot of lessons have been learnt and community confidence in flying shouldn't be diminished because of what was an exceptional and preventable set of circumstances early in the pandemic."

It comes a month after the Ruby Princess inquiry concluded and Premier Gladys Berejiklian "unreservedly" apol­ogised for the mistakes outlined in a scathing report.

Commissioner Bret Walker SC's report identified a list of mistakes that led to thousands of passengers disembarking the ship before travelling around Australia and the globe.

Originally published as Ruby Princess passengers spread COVID on Qantas flight to Perth



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