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Cruise ship responsible for jump in Australia coronavirus cases

SYDNEY : Australia reported a jump in coronavirus cases yesterday, almost entirely due to passengers who disembarked from a cruise ship in Sydney several days ago, prompting widespread criticism of the official response to the outbreak.

The ship, Carnival's Ruby Princess, became the country's largest source of infections as one of its passengers also became the eighth fatality nationally.

In a chain of events described by New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott as a "monumental stuff-up", about 2,700 passengers were allowed to leave the ship when it docked in Sydney on March 19.

By Tuesday, around 130 of those passengers had tested positive and officials were frantically hunting down other travellers to test them and track their movements.

Australia stepped closer to a full lockdown yesterday, with the authorities warning of harsher penalties for anybody violating self-isolation orders as they began to worry that hospitals were starting to feel the strain.

CRITICAL STAGE

With 1,984 cases, Australia has registered lower rates of infection compared to elsewhere in the world, but the infection rate has quickened in recent days and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was now at a "critical stage".

While schools officially remained open in most of the country, parents were strongly advised to keep their children home, as all other non-essential services, including cinemas, pubs and houses of worship, were closed for the first full day.

"We are ramping up our compliance," she told reporters in Sydney. "There are harsh penalties and we'll enforce that. We have to take this seriously."

Carnival Corp said it was "profoundly sorry" to learn that the Princess Ruby passenger, a woman in her 70s, had died.

"This sad development underlines the challenges we are all facing as a community in the battle against the impact of Covid-19," the company said in a statement.- REUTERS

WORLD