A NSW Health medical officer deemed the Ruby Princess cruise ship low risk mainly because no passengers had been to countries with worrying COVID-19 outbreaks, an inquiry has heard.
NSW Health communicable disease senior medical officer Dr Sean Tobin was questioned on Tuesday as part of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess.
Dr Tobin, who also holds the title of the state’s chief human biosecurity officer, was one of several public health experts who gave the ill-fated cruise ship permission via email to disembark at Circular Quay on the afternoon of March 18.
Counsel assisting Richard Beasley SC noted Dr Tobin had acknowledged the “fair number of passengers and crew presented with respiratory systems” when deciding on the low-risk rating.
But he had only seen the Ruby Princess’ pre-arrival risk assessment form and not the acute respiratory disease logs.
The pre-arrival form stated 2.7 per cent of passengers or crew had presented with respiratory illness and only 0.94 per cent had influenza-like illness, which met the state’s low-risk criteria of under one per cent.
Mr Beasley asked Dr Tobin if consideration was given to treat the 0.94 per cent by rounding it up to one as a precaution, but Dr Tobin said he didn’t believe “the one per cent was a hard and fast rule”.
Dr Tobin also confirmed he was not aware of an upward trajectory being reported on the ship as he had not been shown the acute respiratory disease logs that indicated daily increases of influenza-like illness or acute respiratory illness from March 15.
He confirmed it could have “possibly” been helpful to see the report before making his assessment, but added those involved hadn’t discussed disease trajectory as part of their decision-making process.
No “high-risk passengers and crew” was the major motivator for Dr Tobin’s decision.
“You’ve said the most significant factor was the absence of passengers and crew who had travelled through China, South Korea, Iran or Italy in the last 14 days before embarkation,” Mr Beasley read from Dr Tobin’s statement.
Commissioner Bret Walker SC said he thought it was “a bit odd” that clinical judgments were being made without the authorities having seen individual patient records.
“There were a number of key factors we were considering,” Dr Tobin replied.
“I didn’t see anything in this that would suggest that I should look at the ARD log in more detail.”
Dr Tobin told the inquiry earlier he was part of a panel that initially discussed the health and risk assessments of cruise ship entry into NSW and was also involved in providing insight on the state’s draft cruise ship protocol document.
The special commission of inquiry will continue on Wednesday.
The Ruby Princess has been linked to more than 20 coronavirus deaths and 600 infections across Australia, including a cluster in Tasmania.