Up to 80 Melbourne-bound passengers may already have virus

This coronavirus article is unlocked and free to read in the interest of community health and safety. For full access to trusted news from the Herald Sun and Leader, get a free four week digital subscription here.


More than 100 Australian passengers from the Antarctic cruise ship Greg Mortimer will fly into Melbourne from Uruguay tomorrow.

Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen said up to 70 per cent of people - an estimated 80 people - on-board the Melbourne flight could have coronavirus.

Dr Annaliese van Diemen said preparations are being made to test and quarantine those on board repatriation flights from Peru, Delhi and Uruguay.

"Everybody will be assessed when they get off the flight by a medical flight by a medical team," Dr van Diemen said.

"If that assessment determines they need testing, then yes they will be tested."


Passengers will go into 14 days of isolation in a hotel.

The anticipated cases will not be included in Victoria's overall tally but in a separate count from the ship alone.

The ship's operator confirmed this week 128 of 217 people on board, nearly 60 per cent, had tested positive for the coronavirus but all were asymptomatic.

"Our priority remains getting everyone on board disembarked as soon and as safely as possible," an Aurora Expeditions spokesman said in a statement. "It has been a very harrowing time for all involved."

Kiwi passengers will undergo medical assessments before being transferred directly to a charter flight to New Zealand.

The Greg Mortimer departed on March 15 on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia but has been docked off the coast of Montevideo since March 27.



Another man has died of coronavirus in Victoria, bringing the state's total number of deaths to 14.

Victoria's Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, confirmed the death on Saturday morning.

The man, aged in his 80s, died in hospital.

In Victoria there are now 1265 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 24 from yesterday.

Currently 44 people in hospital - 15 of which are in ICU.

118 cases may have been contracted via community transmission.

"Our message is clear: stay at home," Ms Mr Mikakos said.

More than 980 people have recovered from the virus and 67,000 Victorians have been tested.

Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen said about 2000-3000 people are being tested each day in Victoria.

She said despite positive trends in cases recently, it was too early to consider lifting restrictions.

"It's not too early to be talking about planning, it's too early to be talking about lifting," she said.

"We need to be planning for what's going to happen in weeks, we need to be planning for what's going to happen in months to even up to a year to 18 months."




While Police have been left baffled after they were forced to issue another 183 fines in the past 24 hours to Victorians blatantly disregarding stay at home directives.

There is no shortage of work for the 500-strong police taskforce Operation Sentinel which was set up to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the people who were fined overnight were:

SEVEN mates found drinking within a schoolyard

FOUR women partying at and Airbnb property

FIVE people intercepted in a rideshare car

MULTIPLE fines issued to drug dealers

Overall police conducted 893 spot checks across homes, businesses and non-essential services in this 24 hour window.

Victorians are banned from activities including fishing, boating, camping and all non-essential travel, but those who own holiday homes or have long-term leases can visit.

Police were out in force on Friday, even using drones on the Surf Coast, where surfers caught a wave at Bells Beach, which should have been hosting the Rip Curl Pro.

On Thursday night a gathering turned sour for a group of nine youths busted by police, who reaped more than $14,800 in fines from the party.



Health authorities are racing to try to stop 52 separate COVID-19 clusters now spreading through Victoria.

At least four of the clusters have been linked to a super spreader identified and tracked down by the state's pandemic detectives.

The Herald Sun can also reveal three large weddings led to clusters of Victorians being infected with coronavirus.

Mounting evidence about the nature of coronavirus circulating within Victoria is also raising fears among public health experts that COVID-19 may be infectious earlier in many patients than they realise - potentially causing a wider spread of community transmissions than suspected.

Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen said the largest COVID-19 cluster has already infected 30 patients. But the 1000-strong team of contact-tracing health detectives was limiting the spread of clusters by imposing strict isolation on those closely connected.

"This is the war of our generation," Dr van Diemen said.


Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen in the coronavirus control room. Picture: David Caird
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen in the coronavirus control room. Picture: David Caird

While typical COVID-19 patients only spread the virus to two or three other people, Victoria's contact-tracing team has uncovered a so-called super spreader believed to be the source of dozens of cases.

Although the Melbourne hospitality worker never developed strong symptoms himself, he was discovered when complex investigations into infections at three separate events revealed he had worked at all of them.

A fourth cluster was also linked back to the worker, who had no reason to suspect he was infectious prior to the investigations.

"Initially we thought there was a cluster of cases who had all been to that venue on a particular night and we thought somebody in that place had it," Dr van Diemen said. "A bit later there was another cluster from an event at the same place. Now there are at least three clusters linked to that venue and at least one of them has seeded off another cluster."

Several other large gatherings have also been revealed as the source of multiple cases, including a wedding where 300 guests and staff had to be placed in isolation after eight guests became ill and tested positive.





Six months ago Meabh Ni Shuilleabhain was an Irish nurse enjoying a working holiday in Australia.

Now she is a frontline investigator helping Victoria stop the coronavirus.

She has spoken to hundreds of COVID-19 patients, undertaking interviews of up to 90 minutes to draw out every detail of where they have travelled, their symptoms, and their contacts.

On Thursday the results of a test undertaken 24 hours earlier at a Melbourne hospital come in. A woman recently arrived from Europe is positive for COVID-19, and Ms Ni Shuilleabhain must find out more.

She asks pages of questions. Do you have underlying health issues? Where have you travelled? Have you come into contact with confirmed cases?

As the patient grows anxious, Ms Ni Shuilleabhain provides reassurances: "Thank you for keeping all this tracked; it makes my life pretty easy," she says.

"Every symptom is important no matter when it comes on. It's good that we have all this stuff on file so we can use it for research."

Circumstances suggest the woman may have been infected by friends in Europe, although she may also have caught COVID-19 on her flight. Both will be examined in more detail.

The patient is also concerned she faces a further two weeks of isolation.

"It depends on your case and your symptoms. The fact you are already feeling better is good, however, I cannot give you a date on when
they will deem you
non-infectious," Ms Ni Shuilleabhain tells her.

The case is forwarded to a team that will monitor the woman's symptoms to determine when she is safe to rejoin the community.



Originally published as Melbourne-bound cruise ship passengers may already have virus

Contact tracer Meabh Ni Shuilleabhain on a call to a COVID-19 infected person. Picture: David Caird
Contact tracer Meabh Ni Shuilleabhain on a call to a COVID-19 infected person. Picture: David Caird