THE VIRUS SHIP SHOW
State and Federal governments in ugly spat over how to send home foreign cruise ship passengers docked off the WA coast
Coronavirus-stricken passengers on cruise ships off Perth could be treated at a Defence base while healthy travellers are sent home under a mercy flight deal between Australia and the international community.
But as it emerged seven passengers had COVID-19, a spat was brewing between the State and Federal governments over the plans.
Two Artania passengers were evacuated yesterday after a non-virus emergency.
A multi-country mercy flight deal is being negotiated by Foreign Minister Marise Payne as a way to solve the COVID-19 cruise ship crisis off the WA coast.
Perth’s hospitals remain on alert that crucial resources may need to be redeployed to treat passengers from the coronavirus-infected Artania, which was last night allowed to temporarily berth at Fremantle port due to an unrelated passenger illness.
And as a blame game erupted between the State and Federal governments over two ships filled with foreigners and what to do with them, a third vessel — the Vasco da Gama — was due to arrive off the Perth coast today, though the passengers were not set to disembark until Monday.
The Federal Government was last night pushing for a global deal ensuring sick people on the Artania are flown home in return for mercy flights that would secure the safety of Aussies on cruise ships abroad.
The West Australian can confirm Qatar Airways is keeping most of its network intact — including to Australia — to give more than 35,000 stranded Aussies a pathway to return home despite widespread lockdowns. The Artania is moored off Fremantle, with 1300 foreign nationals — 800 mostly German passengers and 500 crew — aboard, including 25 with respiratory illnesses and seven confirmed cases of COVID-19. Yesterday the WA Government was pushing for the seven infected passengers to be taken to HMAS Stirling navy base at Garden Island, off Rockingham, to self-isolate for 14 days. However, the Federal Government was adamant that could set a dangerous precedent and maintained no formal request for help had been made to Defence by the McGowan Government.
None of the seven coronavirus cases were yesterday seriously ill and it was hoped removing them from the ship would help reduce the risk of the virus spreading to other passengers.
Premier Mark McGowan was locked in discussions with Defence Minster Linda Reynolds, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the issue, desperate to avoid a repeat of the cruise ship debacle in New South Wales where potentially infected passengers walked freely around the community.
The West Australian confirmed Mr McGowan, pictured left, spoke to German ambassador Thomas Fitschen about whether the German Government could swiftly arrange a “mercy flight” to Perth to collect the healthy passengers. All 800 would remain on the Artania until emergency transportation was organised for them.
The passengers were showing signs of frustration yesterday with limbo status clearly wearing on them as they find themselves caught in the centre of a diplomatic stoush.
Yelling at media and giving
cameras the finger, pictured far left, Artania passengers’ warm welcomes on Wednesday had quickly turned to anger. But they appeared to be following social distancing more than the day before, though there very few of them were wearing face masks, pictured far left.
Also yesterday, a WA Police vessel transported an elderly passenger who suffered a lifethreatening medical emergency from the Artania to Rous Head
in Fremantle, pictured above. He appeared frail as he was assisted to a waiting St John Ambulance by at least three police officers, all wearing protective clothing, face masks and gloves.
The condition of the patient, who was last night in a stable condition, was not related to COVID-19 and Health Minister Roger Cook said the man would be treated in a negative pressure room at Fiona Stanley Hospital.
The Health Department said
there was a second medical emergency aboard the Artania yesterday. It is believed a passenger suffered a suspected heart attack. This is the incident that forced the State Government to allow the ship to berth.
The Government said everyone else had to “remain on board in self-isolation”.
Meanwhile, more than 1700 foreigners aboard the Magnifica are “doing loops” off the WA coast after being refused entry into Dubai after refuelling earlier in the week. The vessel had reported 298 cases of illness on the ship to the Federal Government, but later said no passengers were ill.
The Premier has made it clear no passengers from the ships willbe allowed onto WA soil, unless they need life-saving medical treatment amid fears the State’s hospitals could be overrun. “I am 100 per cent clear on this — no one will be disembarking at Fremantle, unless a passenger is in a life-threatening emergency,” he said.
The State Government suggested the Artania’s passengers be taken to Christmas Island or to RAAF Base Learmonth near Exmouth, but both proposals were rejected. “The ship is an international cruise ship. It only has foreign citizens on board. (The Commonwealth) need to work out what to do, in conjunction ... with the German Government,” Mr McGowan said.