“Ships are known as incredible places where infectious diseases can be transmitted,” he said.
Professor Murphy said “at the moment” the cases detected on board were “consistent with everyone having been infected before the quarantine was put in place”, but if further cases continued to emerge on the ship, “you’d have to wonder about the quarantine”.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Friday morning the government would be working with Japanese authorities throughout the course of the day to secure approval for Australian health officials to assist Japan on the ground in Yokohama.
“It’s a very difficult situation on that ship,” Professor Kelly told the ABC.
“In terms of the quarantine to protect the Japanese public, it’s worked very well – there haven’t been any cases exported from the ship onto the Japanese mainland, although patients that have been diagnosed have been moved, appropriately, to isolation in hospital.
“And I understand overnight they are starting to take elderly patients and others with other illnesses off the ship.”
He said the Australian government was “looking at all options” to protect the health of citizens trapped on board the Diamond Princess but there are no immediate plans to evacuate the Australians.
His comments came as NSW Health authorities boarded a cruise ship docked in Sydney Harbour to test a Singaporean man suspected of having the coronavirus.
The Norwegian Jewel, with a guest capacity of 2376 people and 1060 crew, arrived in Sydney at 6am and is docked at the international passenger terminal at Circular Quay.
The ship’s owner, Norwegian Cruise Line, stopped allowing passengers who had been to China to board its ships two weeks ago as part of restrictions implemented by the peak industry body Cruise Lines International Association.
A cruise ship on international waters may slip between the cracks of disease surveillance.
Professor Raina MacIntyre
University of NSW infectious disease expert Professor Raina MacIntyre said cruise ships were a weak link in global efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus as WHO international health regulations were “are not enforceable and many countries do not have the resources to comply”.
“A cruise ship on international waters may slip between the cracks of disease surveillance.”
Another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia on Thursday after being stranded at sea for several days after five ports in Asia turned it away out of concern its passengers may bring coronavirus ashore, despite no confirmed cases on board.
Cruise Lines International Association communications director Jon Murrie said cruise lines were “well-equipped and experienced in maintaining health surveillance of passengers and crew”.
“Ships are fitted with medical facilities and shipboard medical professionals are available around the clock, 24/7, to provide initial medical care in the event of reports of illness and to help prevent disease transmission,” he said.
He said shipboard medical teams were provided with clinical guidance on testing and managing patients suspected of having the novel coronavirus “consistent with guidance from prevailing health authorities”.
“A person under investigation is isolated in the medical centre or their cabin to limit potential transmission while additional medical response is initiated,” he said.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.