Seven Covid-19 cases on German-based cruise ship off west Australia

By Subel Bhandari, dpa
Canberra (dpa) – Seven people aboard the German-based cruise ship Artania anchored off Perth in Western Australia have tested positive for the new coronavirus, with the state’s premier calling for federal government help to get the vessel to leave Australian waters.

“Its home port is actually Germany… This ship needs to leave immediately. I want the Commonwealth to make that happen,” Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan told reporters in Perth on Thursday.

If the seven people with Covid-19 need to come onshore for medical treatment, they will have to go to a Commonwealth facility, such as a defence force base, McGowan said.

The Australian government and Germany could then organize for a plane to pick up those passengers after treatment and take them home, he said.

According to the cruise company Phoenix Reisen, five of the patients were passengers and two were crew members.

The ship has 800 mostly German passengers and 500 crew members, according to Western Australia authorities.

Earlier, McGowan told Channel Seven that the country’s Navy could potentially help get the cruise ship, which has no Australians on board, to leave Australian waters after refuelling.

The ship asked for assistance, reporting 25 passengers and crew had respiratory symptoms. Western Australia health authorities boarded the ship on Wednesday and checked on the patients.

McGowan said the Artania must continue on its journey to South Africa, where it is supposed to be heading next.

The stalemate comes a week after Ruby Princess cruise ship with 2,700 passengers disembarked in Sydney with minimal checks. Later, more than 130 tested positive to Covid-19, resulting in one death, and McGowan said he did not want a repeat of the bungle.

Another cruise ship, the Magnifica, with 1,700 foreign nationals on board, was anchored outside Perth and barred from docking although it has not reported any Covid-19 cases.

The Vasco da Gama, a cruise ship with 950 passengers and 550 crew aboard, was to arrive south of Perth in Fremantle on Monday.

State authorities said all 800 Australians on board will be taken into quarantine for 14 days on the Rottnest Island, which is famous for its quokka animal population.

Foreign passengers including 109 New Zealanders will remain on board until they can fly home, authorities said.

As of Thursday Australian health authorities had reported over 2,800 coronavirus cases including 12 deaths.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement Thursday saying a time limit imposed on haircuts would be immediately scrapped, following a backlash.

He said salons and barbers must still strictly observe new rules that there may only be one person per four square metres within the premises.

The government had imposed a rule on hairdressers and barbers on Tuesday that haircuts take below 30 minutes, as part of social distancing restrictions to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The restriction put approximately 40,000 hairdressers at risk of having to close down, the Australian Hairdressing Council said in response.

“This decision is outrageous,” the council’s chief executive Sandy Chong said in a statement.

“Whilst many barbers can do a male haircut within that time frame, it really isn’t feasible for a majority of hairdressing salons.”

The hairdresser associations, as well as several salon chains, have called on the government to shut the industry down, which would protect hairdressers from coronavirus and potentially allow them government support.

Australia’s government has not imposed a full lockdown, but has asked people to leave home only for work or essential trips to the shops, while restaurants and pubs are closed apart from takeaway and delivery.

Four people have died due to Covid-19 in Australia since Wednesday evening, bringing the total death toll in the country to 12.

The country has almost 2,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said Thursday.

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