The two cruise ships which is off the coast of Western Australia have been asked immediately to leave Australian waters after the nation's worst outbreak of the coronavirus or COVID-19 was traced to a cruise liner which docked in Sydney Harbour last week.

The cruise ships have already become a flashpoint for the pandemic in Australia post 147 of 2,700 passengers who went out of the Ruby Princess ship in Sydnet later positive for the coronavirus.

Outbreak from the Ruby Princess represents the country's worst cluster

SARS-CoV
SARS-CoV Wikimedia Commons

The outbreak from the Ruby Princess represents the country's worst cluster of the virus and has sparked anger over why passengers, more than a dozen showing flu-like symptoms, were cleared to disembark without basic health checks. State authorities have clashed with the central government over the handling of the issue, adding to tensions over matters including virus testing and school closures as the number of cases rapidly rises above 2,550, with 12 dead.

On Thursday, seven of 800 foreign passengers on board the German-operated MV Artania tested positive for COVID-19, and two more were unwell. West Australian Premier Mark McGowan said no one would be permitted to disembark the Artania unless there was a "life-threatening emergency".

MSC Magnifica is currently in Western Australian waters

"This ship needs to leave immediately," he said, "Our position is clear, we are not going to have a Sydney Harbour fiasco on our watch." The premier said he discussing with federal authorities whether ill passengers could be air-lifted to a military base or similar for treatment.

A second cruise ship, the MSC Magnifica, which refuelled in Perth this week, is currently in Western Australian waters after being refused entry in Dubai. The premier said no passengers on board were ill and arrangements were being made for it to travel to Europe or another port.

A spokeswoman for MSC Cruises which owns the Magnifica declined to comment on where the vessel would go. Western Australia is preparing Rottnest island, a former prison island turned tourist attraction, to quarantine some of the 800 Australians onboard a third cruise ship, the British-operated Vasco de Gama.

Australia is poised for stricter lockdowns

The Vasco da Gama was scheduled to dock in Perth on Friday morning but will instead arrive on Monday to allow time for arrangements to be made on Rottnest island. More than 100 other passengers, from Britain and New Zealand, will be quarantined on the ship. Germany's Phoenix Reisen, owner of the Artania and Britain's Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which owns the Vasco da Gama, was not immediately available for comment.

Stricter lockdown with the number of COVID-19 cases rising quickly, Australia is poised for stricter lockdowns as the shock from the global pandemic hits the economy hard. Long queues have continued to spool around welfare offices across the country, while more than a quarter of a million Australians registered for financial help on Wednesday, according to the government services minister.

The closure of non-essential services such as bars, restaurants, gyms and cinemas, has left hundreds of thousands instantly unemployed. Flight Centre on Thursday said a third of its 20,000 strong workforce faced temporary or permanent redundancy, while retail tycoon Solomon Lew's Premier Investments Ltd temporarily closed all stores in Australia.

(With agency inputs)