Cruise ship Pacific Dawn is at the centre of a swine flu scare Down Under, and has abandoned a call at the isolated Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Queensland to avoid the risk of introducing the disease.
All 2,000 passengers and crew were quarantined at the end of the ship’s last cruise, when the vessel returned to Sydney. At least 18 people, including a couple who married during the voyage, have tested positive for the H1N1 virus.
The ship was allowed to sail with another 1,500 passengers, including 33 Britons, on a 10-day cruise to Australia’s Barrier Reef, but three crew have been put in isolation after developing flu symptoms.
Pacific Dawn is operated by P&O Australia, whose boss, Ann Sherry, said the company had consulted with the Queensland government before deciding to abandon the Whitsunday visit.
“The isolated nature of the islands means there are unique concerns about the risks of quarantinable diseases,” she said. “Whilst Pacific Dawn is sailing with full clearance of health authorities, we understand the need to be prudent.”
The ship is expected to visit Port Douglas on Friday and Cairns on Saturday before heading south to Brisbane on Tuesday, but I would be surprised if the locals are rolling out the red carpet.
UPDATE: According to the latest reports from Australia, Pacific Dawn will arrive in Brisbane on Saturday, when passengers and crew will be given Tamiflu shots. The ship will then return to Sydney on Monday, cutting the cruise short by three days.
Dr Jeanette Young, chief health officer for Queensland, said: “The most important thing we need to do is make sure we don’t bring the flu into a part of Queensland that doesn’t have it, We will make sure that anyone that wants to come off, can come off. We are not going to stop people who want to come off that ship. We won’t be having people from outside going on to that ship until we’ve worked out what is going on.”