More than 4000 vessels carrying 100,000 seafarers have arrived at Port Hedland without incident since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan said at a press conference in the town last week as a range of State authorities managed an outbreak on a bulk carrier moored off the coast.
Ms MacTiernan, Health Minister Roger Cook, Western Australian Medical Assistance Team mission lead Tudor Codreanu, and Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson visited Port Hedland to get a first-hand assessment of the operation to deal with 17 cases of COVID-19 among the 21 crew members of the Patricia Oldendorff bulk manganese carrier that arrived from the Philippines.
They also attended a community meeting.
At the press conference earlier in the day, Ms MacTiernan complemented port staff and the health team in their management of the cases.
“Our number one priority has always been to protect the health and safety of Western Australians,” she said.
Complex systems were in place at all ports to protect the community, but also to allow economic activity to continue.
“The systems we have in place have worked to protect the people of Port Hedland while at the same time allowing Port Hedland to achieve record throughput of iron ore that is keeping the economy alive,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“One of the issues that has been revealed to us is that perhaps the quarantine provisions in some other countries have some systemic flaws.
“We will now be wanting to address some of those issues.”
Mr Cook said he anticipated that by October 10, the cycle of the virus would be completed, the ship would have been cleaned and it could be cleared to leave.
He said the State felt let down by protocols in place in Manila.
Ms MacTiernan said the Philippines had a two-tiered quarantine system. After testing, officers were allowed to return to home quarantine while seafarers were in hotel quarantine.
“This is a very risky proposition,” she said.
The State may demand higher standards for crews changed in the Philippines.
“Not a lot of the crews coming here are changing in the Philippines. Most of the ships that are coming in, particularly iron ore, are managed by very senior companies with strict protocols.”
Dr Codreanu said the WAMAT team had considerable experience.
When dealing with the Artania cruise ship and infected passengers and crew in Fremantle, it was four days before people were removed; with the Al Kuwait live export ship it was three days. The crew of the Patricia Oldendorff were removed within 24 hours.
“Everything was set up. This should add another layer of assuredness to the community that we have not come here to see what we could do, we came here knowing exactly what we were going to do,” Dr Codreanu said.
“It is an exercise that has been well and truly rehearsed.”
Mr Cook said that at this stage there was no need for a dedicated quarantine facility in Port Hedland.
On the issue of bringing the infected crew ashore, he said: “Ultimately, we are better off caring for people in a hotel quarantine because that’s the best way we can care for those individuals.”
Premier Mark McGowan was in Port Hedland on Thursday.
He said he was satisfied that all necessary measures were in place to protect the community, but he was disappointed a health worker had been near infected crew members without personal protective equipment.
The woman had since returned a negative COVID-19 test but had been quarantined as a precaution.