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Ill-Fated Cruise Liner Leaves Australia as Authorities Probe COVID-19 Infections

The cruise ship Ruby Princess departs from Port Kembla, some 80 kilometers south of Sydney, on April 23, 2020.

A cruise ship that is the single biggest source of COVID-19 infections in Australia has left a port south of Sydney after being ordered to leave by Border Force officials.

The Ruby Princess has become a symbol of death and disease. It is responsible for about 10 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Australia -- more than 600 cases and at least 21 deaths. Dozens of crew members also tested positive. The ill-fated cruise liner has now left Australian waters, but many questions remain.

The police are investigating whether the ship’s owners knowingly let infected passengers disembark when the ship docked in Sydney last month. More than 2,700 people were allowed to leave the ship in March without being tested for the coronavirus.

Opposition New South Wales lawmaker Ryan Park said major mistakes were made by Australian agencies.

“This has been without a doubt the worst public health disaster this community, this state and this nation has ever faced,” he said.

About a third of Australia’s coronavirus cases can be traced to cruise liners, and state authorities in New South Wales have launched an independent investigation into the Ruby Princess. It reportedly is sailing to the Philippines with about 500 crew members still onboard. Hundreds of other staff have been flown home.

Australia has proposed a global review into the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would press for the inquiry during the World Health Organization Assembly in May.

Australia’s call for international action comes as it successfully slows the spread of COVID-19, with new infections well below 1 percent daily.