NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has publicly apologised for the “horrible mistakes” made during the Ruby Princess cruise ship fiasco, which led to the spread of COVID-19 across the country.
Ms Berejiklian read the findings of an inquiry report over the weekend after it was released to the public on Friday afternoon.
“I now apologise unreservedly to anyone who suffered as a result of the mistakes outlined in the report undertaken by health department individuals,” she said in Sydney on Monday.
“In particular, the 62 people who got the virus in a secondary way.”
The special commission of inquiry headed by Bret Walker SC identified a series of “inexcusable”, “inexplicable” and “unjustifiable” errors made by NSW authorities before and after 2700 cruise ship passengers were allowed to disembark into Sydney’s Circular Quay in March.
“I say not only have lessons been learnt, but clearly those circumstances should and will never happen again in NSW,” Ms Berejiklian said.
In the report, Mr Walker reserved his harshest criticism for NSW Health, while relieving Australian Border Force officials of blame for the debacle.
The ship – which was low on medical supplies and swabs for COVID-19 tests due to shortages – left Sydney on March 8 for New Zealand and returned 11 days later.
Passengers were allowed to disembark before the results of 13 expedited tests, which showed at least three people had the virus, were received.
The delay was “inexcusable” and the swabs should have been tested immediately, Mr Walker said.
He found the NSW government also erred by allowing the disembarked passengers to immediately travel interstate and abroad, breaching a new public health order.
“Ultimately, every passenger and crew member of the Ruby Princess should have been tested for COVID-19 while in enforced quarantine,” the report said.
The inquiry revealed the Ruby Princess outbreak infected 663 passengers and led to 28 deaths, including 20 in Australia and eight in the US.
Separate NSW Police and coronial inquiries into the Ruby Princess are ongoing and not expected to report back for at least another month.
‘Anxiety’ about community transmission continues
NSW confirmed seven new coronavirus cases on Monday.
Ms Berejikilian said while infections were declining, she remained anxious about the spread of undetected cases in western and south-western Sydney.
The seven cases were recorded from 10,806 tests in the 24 hours until 8pm on Sunday. One was a returned overseas traveller and six were acquired locally.
“We remain concerned about potential undetected strains of coronavirus in western and south-western Sydney,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“My anxiety remains the same, if not slightly higher because every week we’ve had an accumulation of undetected or unsourced cases.”
A string of school closures, the latest being Sydney Girls High on Monday after a student returned a positive test, has prompted new COVID-safe rules.
From Wednesday, all public schools in the state will be required to implement the changes to ensure communities remain safe inside and outside the school gate, NSW Education Department said.
Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 is prohibited from returning to school until a negative test result has been reported.
Formals, dances, graduation ceremonies, choirs and all social events have been banned and students must remain within their relevant class or year groups.
Schools must not travel outside their local community or zone and interschool sport and zone carnivals are restricted to 100 people per venue and held locally.
Spectators, including parents and carers, won’t be allowed on school grounds or at sporting events held during school hours.
Schools may hold a year 12 assembly at school without parents to recognise the completion of school or consider delaying events until later in the year.
However, students and staff required to support HSC students are permitted to meet their HSC requirements with COVID-19 safety measures in place.
NSW had five new cases on Sunday, its lowest number since July 12.
All were locally acquired. Three are connected to the Tangara School for Girls cluster, which has so far been linked to 25 cases in total, in Cherrybrook in Sydney’s northwest.
The three are linked to previous Tangara cases who visited four separate venues from August 2-8.
Parramatta Local Court was cleaned as a precaution on Sunday after a security guard tested positive.
The Department of Communities and Justice said the guard worked last Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
It said all close contacts had been identified and people at the courthouse between 8.30am and 12.30pm last Tuesday and Wednesday should watch for symptoms.