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Eighty cruise ship COVID-19 cases touch down in Melbourne

There are no reports of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Delhi or Peru flights but all incoming passengers will be forced into 14-day quarantine at Melbourne hotels.

Premier Andrews’ concern follows the ill-fated decision to allow the coronavirus-riddled Ruby Princess cruise ship to dock in Sydney on March 19, resulting in dozens of new COVID-19 cases spreading the virus across the country.

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A field medicine operation was being set up on Saturday at an unused terminal at Melbourne Airport to greet the plane from Uruguay, which was hired by the Australian government to bring citizens home, with emergency doctors assessing all passengers as they disembark.

Ambulances fitted with protective equipment were ready to rush any seriously ill passenger from Tullamarine to one of several Melbourne hospitals placed on standby for the flight’s arrival.

Anyone passenger displaying coronavirus symptoms will be taken to hospital, whether or not they have tested positive for the virus, Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said on Saturday.

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The rest of the travellers will be detained in hotels for 14 days while a small group of New Zealand nationals on the plane from Montevideo were due to board a charter flight home where they will also go into quarantine.

The Greg Mortimer left Argentina on March 15, just as the pandemic was taking hold, for a 16-day return trip to Antarctica.

Dr van Diemen said each incoming passenger had been issued a “fit to fly certificate” before getting on board and that the positive cases among them had been diagnosed about a week ago and were not seriously ill.

But Victorian authorities were planning to contact the flight crew two hours before landing time, to check if anyone on the plane had deteriorated while in transit.

Federal authorities contacted their Victorian counterparts late in the week to request that the Greg Mortimer passengers be allowed to touch down in Melbourne.

But with cruise ships seen as a serious danger to public health in the wake of the Ruby Princess debacle, Premier Daniel Andrews was not prepared to let the Uruguay flight land in Tullamarine without assurances from the highest level and phoned Mr Morrison on Friday night, seeking the Prime Minister’s undertaking that the operation would not put Victorians in danger.

The Ruby Princess crisis has prompted a police investigation into the bureaucratic meltdown.

As police probe the cruise line and a handful of state and federal agencies for their role in the debacle, lawyers are preparing class actions on behalf of some of the 2700 passengers on board.

Premier Andrews specifically wanted the Prime Minister to provide details on the medical safety protocols that had been observed in Montevideo while boarding 80 COVID-19 positive passengers onto a plane to undertake a flight of more than 17 hours.

After the phone call, it is understood the Premier gave the go-ahead for the plane to land.

Dr van Diemen said on Saturday that she was satisfied health authorities had done the necessary work to prepare to disembark the passengers without putting them or the Victorian public at risk.

“We have field emergency medical officers who will be located at the airport in an unused terminal,” she said.

“We’ll have ambulances, all of them will be kitted out with all of the appropriate and requisite [personal protective equipment].

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“Any hospitals which are receiving those passengers as they come off will be well and truly warned in advance and they are all prepared to be receiving patients, as they do every day, who are suspected cases of COVID-19.”

Dr van Diemen said the confirmed coronavirus cases on the plane would not count towards Victoria’s total number of infections in the official statistics because they were diagnosed outside the state.

The total number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Victoria stood at 1265 on Saturday, an increase of 24 from the previous day.

There was one new death reported on Saturday, a man in his 80s who died in hospital, taking the number of Victorian coronavirus deaths to 14.

There were 118 cases of of COVID-19 in Victoria that may have been acquired through community transmission.

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