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Pacific Dawn – “Love Boat” gone wrong

Sydney and Adelaide readers might have seen the names of Geoff and Loretta Fisher in their local papers recently. They were passengers on the cruise ship Pacific Dawn, on which three crew were diagnosed as having Swine Flu and quarantined. I've been listening to talkback callers castigating these people for returning home and possibly spreading the disease. I spoke to Loretta (one of my oldest and dearest friends) earlier this evening, and later watching a health spokesman on ABCTV News saying that possible flu cases from the boat were being "handled appropriately" made me laugh in anger.

The wedding was a beautiful and simple one. The couple were married on the platform of the Mount Barker railway station, beside the steam train. Loretta's new grandson, dressed in a miniature groomsman's outfit, was ring bearer, and her two bridesmaid daughters glowed with pride in their mother, who made her vows in a porcelainesque flowing gown that she'd won in a competition. After the ceremony everybody boarded the train for a meander through the Adelaide Hills to the fine meal waiting at a Strathalbyn pub (which had a quite workable piano) and then a gloriously unsober ride back home ended the day. Loretta and Geoff headed off to a cottage for their wedding night. Their honeymoon wasn't going to be for a couple of weeks, when they were looking forward to voyaging on a cruise ship to Vanuatu. They were to be quartered on the Honeymoon Deck, along with newlyweds from all over the continent.

On the second day of their nine day cruise, three crew members were isolated from the rest of the voyagers. According to Loretta, none of the passengers were informed. At a pub trivia night in Vanuatu (the photo in the Telegraph was taken on Loretta's camera) one of the new brides was feeling too unwell to finish her $10 Pina Colada, a job my friend completed with gusto, sharing the same straw.

On returning to Sydney after an idyllic trip, the couple disembarked at a pre-arranged time. After an expedition to the Parramatta Shopping Centre, they dined with Geoff's parents and returned to their hotel.

The next morning the Telegraph was at their bedroom door, bearing the headline "Cabin Fever" and the newlyweds learned for the first time of what was happening. Ringing the newspaper for more information resulted in a journo and a photographer rushing to the hotel. Loretta (did I mention she's a nurse?) contacted health authorities to let them know where to find them, and was advised that the couple should isolate themselves (at their own expense) and not travel.

They were told that the decision to do so would be purely voluntary, and that no accommodation or financial assistance would be provided. "The credit cards were empty," says Loretta, "and we didn't have enough money to lock ourselves into the hotel and pay for food to be delivered to our door. We went home - what else could we do?"

The couple rang QANTAS to advise them of the predicament, and the airline gave them permission to make the flight. Loretta tells me that health authorities, when advised of QANTAS and the couple's decision, "were about to go into a meeting and would discuss it there" and would ring them back later in the day. The call was never returned.

On returning to Adelaide Loretta rang her teenage daughter, telling her that she had the choice of staying with friends for a week or joining them in quarantine. The girl waited to give her mother a farewell hug before heading off. A carer at a facility for severely disabled people, she rang her employers to let them know what was going on at home. The managers of the facility gave her the week off with full pay, "just to play it safe".

The next day, after a picture of the honeymooners at the airport had appeared on page five of the Adelaide Advertiser, Loretta received an automatic message, which went directly to her message bank. "If you have any symptoms, press One" the voice intoned, and, having awoken with a blocked nose, she duly complied. She was then advised to present to one of two major Adelaide hospitals for a swab test. On Geoff's motorbike they travelled the twenty-five kilometres to the Flinders Medical Centre.

The triage nurse refused their requests for testing, adamantly insisting that they weren't displaying enough symptoms to warrant the effort. "We had to fight for it," says Loretta, "and after a long argument they gave in and took the swab." The results will be back tomorrow.

Two of the other newlywed couples have symptoms. Loretta tells me that the bride from Perth is feeling particularly unwell.

While waiting for the news, Loretta and Geoff are on their own in more ways than one. The health folks have sent them a package containing some masks, but they're unable to get to their post box to collect it. They’ve had no contact from social workers or offers of assistance from any organisation, least of all Centrelink. They plan to remain in their house for the next week.

Listening to her story, I could understand Loretta's outrage at the way the passengers have been treated. "If they were really serious about this, they should have kept everybody quarantined on the ship, in the harbour. Then they would be isolated, fed and have somewhere to stay. Instead they've let us go without telling us anything or providing any help."

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Robin Cook-book

Hmm, just read Richard's comments.

Re the thing "getting its genetics right", that applies to so many different bugs the world over. A meteor could send us the way of the dinosaurs. I could get hit by a bus crossing the road tomorrow. We forget how much of life is contingent.

I was watching a guy gripe on teev last night about how "unjust" it was that 797 Chrysler dealerships in the US were going the way of all flesh in the wake of the recession, but really, the seeds of failure were sown some time back, with the USA and its government and corporations blithely on their way with their dinosaur gas-guzzlers, victimhood/entitlement culture  and profligate consumerist neocon governments.

And really, someone losing a dealership inthe US - is that really the same as having your leg blown off in Pakistan or living somewhere in the third world dying by inches of starvation, tuberculosis or malaria?

If the inevitable giant earthquake or pandemic does come, it will be only be humanity's collective fault, for allowing those in control of the levers to waste the world's resources on junk when these could have been spent on CSIRO-type science, rather than just trickling to science as an afterthought to cosmetic surgery, wars, footy stadiums, high fashion and inefficient mac mansions and four wheel drive motoring culture, to name just a few of the more obvious. 

Anyway, the world is way too overpopulated. And as you said, Richard, its mainly young people who are going to catch it.

Huge potential for spreading misery

For its sheer potential for spreading misery, and its likely crippling cost to the broader community, very little could compare with the proposed Johnny Farnham comeback tour.

Certainly not swine flu.

Seasonal flu, however, does kill tens of thousands of people every year.

I'll be very surprised if swine flu causes as many problems.

It's a very mild form of flu, and seems to be a mutated form of the flu virus which swept the world in 1957. That's why most of the folk getting it are young, because older people are probably still carrying the antibodies from when they were kids.

Also, the swine flu is just as likely to mutate into a more benign, rather than more dangerous form.

Honestly, the hysteria about swine flu is up there with Kevin Rudd's policies on China in terms of ill-advised, uninformed nonsense.

Some sort of agreement

For once find myself in some sort of agreement with Eliot. Only Paris Hilton remains a worse threat.

It did occur to me last night that globally this will cost a bit in terms of lost productivity, etc.

And we should not miss the point of Richard Tonkin's post - another foul up of the much vaunted "national security " type,  following the airport bikie rumble of a month or so back.

relatively speaking

Paris Hilton? Well, yes. But that's more like your bubonic plague...

365 die every day

There is another epidemic in the world. People die in their hundreds of thousands every day of things that are not swine flu'.

What a load of hysterical bollocks about sweet bugger all - but at least they got it right this time: blame the boat people.

Boat people

Marilyn Shepherd, at least they did not set fire to the Pacific Dawn when the authorities came aboard.


And neither did the Afghans, Alan Curran.

It is more than high time that you got over the hate you seem to have for innocent human beings and stopped peddling garbage.


Marilyn Shepherd , there appear to be only two people in Australia who know what went on on the Afghans' boat, you and the Afghan who threw the match.

Fiona: Alan Curran, as far as I am aware the results of the enquiry have not yet been announced. I read Marilyn Shepherd's comment as suggesting that the evidence is not yet in, so how can any of us make a call - as you seem to persist in doing?

Not only but also

Fiona, she was partying on a tropical island on her honeymoon ... shit happens.  However, I interpreted what she said to me as meaning that had she known that there was a contagious virus at large amonst her cohabitiants she would have been much less lackadaisical in her hygiene.

Alan, on this one I agree with you.  Everyone's so busy "talking things up" that it's getting harder to believe anything from a government mouth nowadays.

I hear Loretta was defending herself well on Adelaide ABC drivetime radio this afternoon.  Kudos to the ABC for providing the opportunity!

David, it appears that a pandemic is a foregone conclusion, n'est-ce pas?

Jay, methinks P $ O's  lawyers will be very busy very soon.

Paul, never mind the plague - what about if and when this flu virus finally gets its DNA "right" in a successful mutation?  This one looks less life-threatening than previously feared, but if we're as woefully unprepared as we seem to be now when the flu DNA "cracks the jackpot" then the WHO's worst case scenario of 2 billion people doesn't look difficult to achieve.

Sympathetic, but ....

Richard, I have every sympathy for the Fishers' plight, and agree with Loretta that the failure of the NSW health authorities to quarantine the Pacific Dawn's passengers at the end of their cruise (let alone giving them proper information, support, etc.) was (to use as mild a term as possible) regrettably foolhardy.

However, to be using the same straw from which someone else had already been drinking – and Loretta is a nurse? That also worries me. (The number of people with whom I'd share a straw can be counted on one thumb.)


Fiona, the NSW health authorities and their Minister get very little right these days, so why should the Swine Flu episode be any different.

If it was not for the fact that I heard our fearless leader Rudd saying on the ABC yesterday, that Australia is better placed than most countries to deal with this I would be very worried.

At least Australia is testing ...

Most of the rest of the world isn't testing anyone who hasn't been to Mexico or in contact with a confirmed sufferer. One might almost think that they really don't want to find any community cases in other continents and thus have to declare it pandemic - how could that be?

Well, Australia is doing it properly, and the events here over the last few days will probably force the WHO into going to Phase 6 - which they had evidence for in the UK many days ago. Then the Europeans will start testing people with flu symptoms to see if they had Inf A H1N1 - and then expect the worldwide confirmed case numbers to follow the Australian trajectory ...

Just as well it wasn't plague

Just as well it wasn't bubonic plague.


Very un-Australian to return from o'seas with a bug.

Don't people watch the ads, with that bloke pointing his pet giant five foot witchety grub head-first thru customs?

Let's see how quickly it spreads, when Australians do their usual stunt of going to work half-dead with the dog's disease and infecting everyone else in the office or on the shop floor with their 'lergy, rather than do what any sane, normal person would do and stay home in bed, dosed to the eyeballs with various quack nostrums and remedies, washed down with a hot lemon and honey tea.

Too bad they're Aussie

Americans, on the other hand,  would have sued the B'jesus off all and sundry.

Fiona: I dunno, Jay, just give certain law firms a minute or two...

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