As state and federal authorities scolded people for sunning themselves at Bondi Beach last week, something more sinister was silently spreading through Sydney.
The shocking scenes at Bondi of people blatantly flouting social-distancing guidelines drew criticism from around the world that Australians were not taking the global coronavirus pandemic seriously.
Meanwhile, about 8km away, 2,700 passengers had disembarked from the Ruby Princess cruise ship at Circular Quay despite 13 people on board being tested for COVID-19
As their results were in limbo, a tidal wave of passengers who had been exposed to the potentially deadly virus were travelling in cabs, trains, buses and planes.
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In the 24 hours to 8:00pm on Monday, more than half of NSW’s 149 new COVID-19 infections were people who had been on the Ruby Princess.
Yesterday morning, a 77-year-old woman who was on the boat, died from the virus.
It’s right to blame Sydneysiders for their social-distancing stupidity at Bondi Beach on Friday and Saturday.
The State Government has been treading a fine line of acknowledging that the situation was mishandled, while insisting all national protocols were followed, if not exceeded, when the ship docked.
That’s true — and the fact that thousands of people were allowed to disembark despite, potentially, being infected by the virus, is perhaps the most jaw-dropping part of the incident.
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So far, more than 130 cases of coronavirus can be traced back to the Ruby Princess.
“There is no action that NSW Health could have taken to prevent those people acquiring the disease,” NSW’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has, so far, danced around the issue, and said “every single agency needs to take responsibility on our borders”.
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Her Emergency Services Minister David Elliott went on morning TV at the weekend and admitted that “it was a monumental stuff up” and “we’ve got to take the hit”.
Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner Michael Outram held a press conference to “clarify some actual facts” about the Ruby Princess, and pointed the finger squarely at NSW.
“We in the border force do not have expertise in health or in bio security,” he said.
“The decision to allow them off in relation to the health and bio security issue was one of the New South Wales Health.”
His comments echoed those of the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, who also blamed the Berejiklian Government.
“The state health authorities make the final decision,” he told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program.
“But I don’t want get into blaming.”
The Federal Opposition, meanwhile, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had dropped the ball.
“The reality is people were allowed to get off a cruise ship,” Opposition spokeswoman for home affairs Kristina Keneally said.
“The border security measures that the Federal Government put in place failed the Australian people.”
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While the war of words continues, Australians might have missed an important development — the NSW Government has quietly tightened its quarantine procedures at Circular Quay.
It will now hold all cruise ships in port until any people suspected of having respiratory issues are tested and results are returned.
It understands that what took place on the Ruby Princess can never happen again.
And, when the dust settles on Australia’s coronavirus outbreak, Bondi Beach won’t be the pivotal moment people remember.