Wendy's left in limbo after COVID-19 cruise chaos

Coronavirus crisis: Eight on the cruise test positive for COVID-19, Wendy Hunter's left to wait

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Bega's Wendy Hunter aboard the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship. Eight passengers have now tested positive for COVID-19. Picture: Supplied

Bega's Wendy Hunter aboard the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship. Eight passengers have now tested positive for COVID-19. Picture: Supplied

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Wendy Hunter is one of many Australians anxiously waiting for their COVID-19 test results.

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Wendy Hunter is one of many Australians anxiously waiting for their COVID-19 test results.

Booked well in advance, her six-day New Zealand cruise aboard the Ovation of the Seas was supposed to be a dream holiday alongside her daughter.

Now, after eight people aboard the ship have tested positive for the disease, she is in quarantine inside her daughter's Wollongong home waiting for her own test results.

Both have common mild symptoms of the virus, including a headache, sore throat and muscle aches.

"I have joined a Facebook group with all the people from the cruise, and a few have tested positive without fevers,' Ms Hunter said.

"On returning Border Force cleared us with no health checks, and said we didn't need to isolate. It's been a complete stuff up."

They should've at the very least told us to go straight home and isolate. - Bega's Wendy Hunter

She said it is likely a passenger brought the virus on bard with them, and said screening to board the ship was so thorough 120 people were denied entry to the vessel.

Ms Hunter has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and severe asthma meaning she is considered at high risk, yet is staying positive given her symptoms mirror that of the common cold.

The state and federal governments have been at loggerheads over who to blame after passengers were allowed to leave the ship despite two showing COVID-19 symptoms for the final two days of the cruise.

"Initially it was a Canadian man who had symptoms for a few days," Ms Hunter said.

A positive test was confirmed in an email from NSW Health to passengers on March 21, three days after passengers disembarked. The email also advised passengers, who it now classed as "close contacts" to isolate themselves for two weeks from the cruise ship's March 12 departure date.

Like many aboard, Ms Hunter had been assured in writing by NSW Health officials they did not need to go into self-quarantine. Despite this, she assumed all passengers would be placed in isolation.

Wendy Hunter received this email from NSW Health on March 21 advising her that a passenger had tested positive.

Wendy Hunter received this email from NSW Health on March 21 advising her that a passenger had tested positive.

"When they shut the New Zealand border, and we headed back on the ship, we thought we would be in isolation, but we were told we wouldn't need to because we hadn't been anywhere," she said.

The following day, NSW Health released a statement saying that "contrary to some public statements made, every cruise liner that has entered NSW ports has been the subject of an assessment well beyond federal requirements".

In an email she received on March 24, almost a week after passengers left the ship, from NSW Health, sent via Royal Caribbean International Express, the department said it was "now aware of eight people who were on board who have been diagnosed with COVID-19".

"Additionally, because more COVID-19 cases have been identified, you must remain in your current location, and must not onward travel," the letter from Health Protection NSW's assistant director of communicable diseases Dr Christine Selvey states.

"You must not travel by air or any form of public transport. Do not go to work, school, or public areas where there are other people, and do not use public transportation, taxi services or ride shares. You should stay in a different room to other people as much as possible, and use a separate bathroom if available."

Wendy Hunter received this email from NSW Health on March 24 announcing eight passengers had tested positive.

Wendy Hunter received this email from NSW Health on March 24 announcing eight passengers had tested positive.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed recently that around 80 per cent of Australian cases came from overseas or people in contact with someone who returned from abroad.

"The country which has actually been responsible for a large amount of these (COVID-19 cases) has actually been the United States," he said.

The Ovation of the Seas docked in Sydney on March 18, the same day federal health minister Greg Hunt issued an emergency biosecurity order preventing any vessels from docking in Australia for one month.

The following day the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney's Circular Quay despite 13 people being sick on board. According to NSW Health 100 passengers have now tested positive to COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram said his officers were not to blame for the failure, putting the blame squarely on NSW Health and the federal Department of Agriculture.

Ms Hunter claims she overheard one Border Force employee who was pushing her in her wheelchair comment about a colleague who had tested positive to COVID-19. She said she was concerned at the time that government employees who may have come in close contact with others with the disease were not in self isolation.

"From my point of view it was Border Force making the decisions," she said.

"They should've at the very least told us to go straight home and isolate."

Head of Border Force and Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, tested positive to the disease earlier this month. He is one of 2317 Australians to test positive so far.

Ms Hunter said she has been offered a full refund by Royal Caribbean International Express, and will know the result of her COVID-19 test by lunch time on Friday.

"I would rather be home, but it is what it is, and people are making bigger sacrifices than me," she said.

"I never thought as an aged pensioner I would feel privileged, but I do now because I have a secure income."

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