On Thursday, the Ruby Princess cruise ship docked in Sydney with dozens of undiagnosed coronavirus cases onboard.
Almost 2,700 passengers – some coughing and spluttering – were allowed to leave the ship at Sydney Harbour, catching trains, buses and even overseas flights to get home.
More than 130 people from the cruise have now tested positive, making it the biggest single source of infections in Australia. One passenger died in hospital on Tuesday.
The saga has caused much anger: why was the ship allowed to dock and unload people?
What passengers were told
Passengers have vented their anger over how the situation was handled by ship operator Princess Cruises and Australian authorities.
Elisa McCafferty, an Australian woman who flew home to London with her husband immediately after disembarking, told the BBC: “Nothing was said at anytime about anyone being sick onboard. It was a distinct lack of information coming through from Princess the entire time.”
She only learned of the danger while collecting her bags at Heathrow Airport.
“I turned on my phone and I started getting all these notifications from people back in Australia saying ‘there’s been confirmed cases on the Ruby,'” she said.
“And I was just absolutely petrified. We had just been on two full flights – what if we had infected someone?”
She said she now had a dry cough, fever, body aches and fatigue – and they were self-isolating at home. They were also concerned about their elderly parents and friends who were on the trip too.
Other passengers recalled coming into contact with sick people on the boat and said there were no warnings.
“I think that they let us down,” said Bill Beerens, a Sydney man who tested positive for the virus in hospital on the day he disembarked.
“I do honestly believe that they [cruise ship management] knew what was going on and they just wanted us off the boat,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Elderly couple Rona and Michael Doubrin said they had symptoms towards the end of the cruise but had not been concerned, because they had not been told to practice social distancing.
“We would have isolated ourselves in the cabin if we’d known. We’re not spring chickens – we’re high risk.”
What happened in Sydney?
After an 11-day voyage, the ship returned to the city before dawn, cutting short its final New Zealand leg as the nation announced a travel ban.
At the time, according to NSW Health, about a dozen passengers reported feeling unwell and they had swabs taken for Covid-19. An ambulance took a passenger to hospital. (The woman, aged in her 70s, died on Tuesday, authorities said.)
But other passengers on board weren’t told of this. Instead, thousands streamed off the boat at Circular Quay, just across from the Sydney Opera House. The bustling area leads directly into the city centre, with transit links to the airport and outer suburbs.