Cruise ship in New Zealand with Covid-19 cases failed to follow current isolation guidelines

By Kate Green for RNZ

The cruise ship visiting Wellington yesterday, and Napier the day before, has not been following current Covid isolation guidelines.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Te Whatu Ora says Royal Caribbean, the owner of the ship Ovation of the Seas, sought clarification of the rules on Wednesday.

Royal Caribbean previously released a statement saying positive cases on board, numbering more than 130, would isolate in their cabin for five days, and only on days six and seven if they were still symptomatic.

The MOH said from now on, the vessel, which docked in Picton this morning, would be following the country's mandatory seven-day isolation rule.

The cruise liner carries almost 5000 passengers and 1300 crew, and all guests over age 12 were required to be fully vaccinated.

"Positive cases on board are required to isolate in their cabin for 5 days and if still symptomatic on days six and seven," the statement read.

"Those sharing cabins with Covid positive guests must wear masks and undertake daily Rapid Antigen Testing."

Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O'Sullivan said there must have been a communication breakdown between the health ministry and the ship.

Ships were normally happy to comply with whatever the rules were at their place of arrival, and this advice came from the Ministry of Health straight to the cruise company.

O'Sullivan said in other ways, Covid safety measures were more stringent on-board than on-shore due to frequent testing.

People were "not required to wander round New Zealand being frequently tested" as they were on the ship, he said.

Business operators in Napier, where the ship first docked after leaving Tahiti, were unconcerned about the prospect of Covid in the community.

Instead, they were happy with the boost to their economy.

In Wellington, the Weta Cave saw 330 people through its doors on Tuesday - 200 more than last Tuesday - and 1500 people rode the cable car, according to WellingtonNZ.

University of Otago Wellington professor of public health Michael Baker said cruise ships were "notorious" for infectious disease outbreaks, but the "environment had changed hugely" since March 2020, when the country was closing its borders.

Even though he thought infections would "inevitably" be introduced into the community, he did not think it would bring on new strains or waves.

"We have more than 10,000 people every day flying into New Zealand from all over the globe so we are fully connected with the whole diversity of Covid variants and sub variants and that's a much faster way for them to arrive here rather than via cruise ship."