11 May 2021

WA’s success with cruise ship COVID management highlighted

The successful response to the COVID-19 outbreak on the MV Artania cruise ship off Western Australia’s coast last year is now the focus of a published scientific paper.

Successful Control of an Onboard COVID-19 Outbreak Using the Cruise Ship as a Quarantine Facility, Western Australia (external site) has been published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.

The peer-reviewed journal is published monthly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a United States federal government agency.

State Health Incident Coordination Centre Medical Adviser Dr Tudor Codreanu, Master of Applied Epidemiology Scholar Sera Ngeh and Communicable Disease Control Director Dr Paul Armstrong, along with Director Disaster Preparedness Abigail Trewin from Darwin’s National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, prepared the paper.

“What we did in WA, and how we did it, proved to be successful,” Dr Codreanu said.

“In the current global pandemic, we wanted to share it with the rest of the healthcare world so they could take inspiration ­– and confidence – if they were presented with the same situation.

“Contrary to the widely held opinion at the time that on-board quarantining was not practicable, WA demonstrated its feasibility under certain circumstances.”

The main challenges were the vessel’s size (230m long with nine decks), amount of people on board (832 passengers in 594 cabins and 503 crew members in 321 cabins), an age range of seven to 89 years and 42 different nationalities.

“The response occurred at the same time the MV Ruby Princess was managed for a similar outbreak in Sydney and on the back of the not-so-successful management of an earlier outbreak on board the MV Diamond Princess in Japan,” Dr Codreanu said.

“The aggregation of a plan containing 13 non-negotiable steps, a fully compliant vessel crew, officers and passengers and the discipline in deploying the plan gave us the advantage.

“WA’s processes had the health and welfare of the crew and passengers at heart and there were no serious health issues reported during quarantine.”

The paper found that onboard quarantine could offer financial and operational advantages with outbreak responses while also providing reassurance to the wider community in relation to risk of infection.

Dr Codreanu said the principles used in the MV Artania scenario had since been applied to four other vessels with COVID-19 outbreaks in WA waters, all delivering consistent results.

“They had an average of 15.5 days from decision to implementing the response plan to vessel departure, no crew hospitalisations and no deaths,” he said.

“At the same time, all responders, land-based workers and the larger community were kept safe and the disruption to trade was kept to a minimum.

“But our knowledge of this virus and the human response to the infection changes almost daily, so we would always base our response to an outbreak on the latest evidence-based information.”

The paper is available online (external site).


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