By Phil Mercer
30 May 2009
|Cruise ship 'Pacific Dawn' sailing past Sydney Opera House in a 2007 image provided by P&O Cruises|
Authorities in Queensland have put strict precautions into place to try to stop the spread of infection from the Pacific Dawn cruise ship.
Passengers disembarking the vessel in Brisbane have been met by a team of nurses and medical staff. Two thousand passengers and several hundred crew members will be screened for swine flu and asked to isolate themselves at home for a week.
Passengers, who do not disembark in Brisbane, will be kept onboard until the cruise liner departs for Sydney, its final destination, where similar precautions will be put into place.
Federal health minister, Nicola Roxon, says forcing the vessel to cancel a planned 10-day trip around the Great Barrier Reef is a necessary precaution.
"We apologize to passengers whose holidays have been disrupted by these developments but the actions being taken are designed to look after the health of passengers and crew and, of course, the Australian public," said Roxon.
The Pacific Dawn has been blamed for the recent increase in swine flu infections in Australia after health officials allowed hundreds of passengers to go home at the end of a previous cruise, despite a suspected outbreak onboard. At least 20 travelers were later diagnosed with the virus.
The flu outbreak is starting to affect the tourism industry, with one major airline announcing plans to scale back services between Australia and Japan by one-third because of a slump in demand from Japanese passengers.
More than 200 people in Australia have now contracted the contagious condition. Some scientists have said the government should cancel large sporting events and close schools to try to stop the spread of the respiratory disease. They have predicted that up to one fifth of the Australian population - about four million people - could be infected by the swine flu virus.
The Australian government has warned that the number of infections could rise rapidly.
Other infectious disease experts, however, have insisted Australia's is over-reacting to the outbreak of the A-H1N1 virus, insisting that, so far, the disease is no worse than other strains of influenza that kill hundreds of Australians every year during the colder winter months.