Ruby Princess health expert: ’I would still go on a cruise’
EXCLUSIVE: The doctor sent to contain the coronavirus outbreak on the Ruby Princess said there is nothing to fear about the ground zero pandemic cruise ship and said he would definitely holiday on the vessel.
Australian doctor Dr John Parker was sent in to contain coronavirus outbreaks on the Ruby Princess in Wollongong, the Diamond Princess in Tokyo and the Grand Princess in San Francisco.
And while he said cruising would never be the same, he was adamant he would go on a cruise on those very ships in the future.
Dr Parker now is advising companies on how to make ships safer from crew accommodation through to airconditioning, infection control and even apps that could help the ship's doctor know in real time whether any passengers or crew were sick.
It will be safe for passengers to get aboard the infected ships in the future because the virus does not live very long on its own, he said.
Within a couple of weeks any viral particles left on infected cruise ships or hotel rooms housing quarantined passengers would no longer be infectious, he said.
However, he says cruising will never be the same after COVID-19.
"It won't be quite as crowded. You've got to have social distancing and the crew will have to have individual cabins," he said.
Filters on airconditioning systems on airlines are of a much higher standard than those on cruise ships and that is something cruise companies may wish to modify, he said.
Another innovation could be to extend an app set up for infected crew members to all passengers and crew so they could record their temperature each day.
"You could see everyone's temperature in real time, it would be a useful tool for the future," he said.
The industry will have to be careful about the changes it makes because "the danger if you rush back in is you have another Ruby Princess and then you scare people off cruising for years".
No stranger to deadly disease the former rural GP has been on the frontline in medical disasters for nearly 30 years and worked in a Rwandan refugee camp where 40,000 people died from cholera.
In 2015 he worked in an ebola hospital in Sierra Leone and not one of the medicos he worked with contracted the disease which kills 70 per cent of its victims because they followed strict protocols.
As a result of his experience in infectious diseases Dr Parker was asked by Aspen Medical to help contain COVID-19 on three cruise ships.
When he boarded the Ruby Princess moored in Wollongong his team carried out 1000 COVID-19 tests in two days and found some of the crew who had been wandering around the ship had the virus but showed no symptoms.
The crew, who were mostly from the Philippines and India, were complacent about social distancing but they were quickly trained up.
"They were very thankful they had a medical team on board putting in protocols and started to feel safe and we surveyed their mood each day," he said.
Dr Parker had nothing to do with the earlier decision to allow infected patients off the ship in Sydney which he described as a "cascade of cock-ups" involving a series of misjudgements and miscommunications for which no one person was to blame.
When asked if he would ever go on a cruise on one of those ships in the future he said "Yes".
"Eventually cruising will become safe again, even safer than before," he said.
While the initial disembarkation of the Ruby Princess in Sydney caused a major disease outbreak Dr Parker said the containment of the virus among infected crew members that allowed the ship to eventually depart was a triumph.
Dr Parker has written a book about his medical adventures: From Cholera to Ebola: Confessions of a Humanitarian Doctor. Amid the missionaries, mercenaries and misfits drawn to the world's most dangerous and volatile hotspots stands Dr John Parker.