More now on the cases in Australia, which jumped on Tuesday almost entirely as a result of passengers who disembarked a cruise ship in Sydney several days ago, prompting widespread criticism of the official response to the pandemic.
The Ruby Princess cruise ship departs Sydney Harbour with no passengers and only crew on board as it passes the Opera House sails on 19 March, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: James D Morgan/Getty Images
The ship, Carnival Corp’s Ruby Princess, became the country’s largest source of coronavirus infections as one of its passengers also became the eighth fatality nationally.
In a chain of events described by New South Wales state 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 19 March.
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 on Tuesday, with authorities warning of harsher penalties for anybody violating self-isolation orders as they began to worry that hospitals were starting to feel the strain.
With 1,984 cases, Australia has registered significantly lower rates of coronavirus 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.
Authorities had initially classified the ship as low risk because it was returning from an 11-day round trip to New Zealand, despite around a dozen passengers showing signs of ill health. About 60% of the passengers were Australian, and 20% were from the United States, ship records showed.