SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police said on Thursday they had taken the “black box” from a cruise ship that landed hundreds of coronavirus-infected passengers in Sydney as part of a homicide investigation into the the deadliest source of infection in the country.
New South Wales police personnel prepare personal protective equipment for the Strike Force Bast raid of the cruise ship Ruby Princess in Port Kembla, New South Wales, Australia, April 8, 2020, in this still image from video. Video taken on April 8, 2020. NSW Police via REUTERS CAUTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALE. NO ARCHIVES. SOURCE FILIGRANE.
The investigation started when Australian authorities said the rate of new coronavirus infections had bottomed out in three weeks and started planning more flights to bring stranded citizens abroad.
The cruise ship Ruby Princess, owned by Carnival Corp (CCL.N), became a flashpoint of public anger in Australia after authorities authorized the ship to disembark its passengers last month without health checks.
Hundreds of passengers were subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus and 15 died, out of approximately 6,000 confirmed cases and 51 deaths in Australia.
Investigators boarded the ship at an industrial harbor south of Sydney, questioned the captain, and took electronic newspapers as evidence, said New South Wales (NSW) State Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
“They spoke to the captain of the ship, who was extremely helpful,” Fuller said during a televised press conference on Thursday.
“The ships have a black box very similar to that of international planes, and this and other evidence has been seized for further investigation.”
Approximately 1,000 crew members of various nationalities remain on board the ship.
Globally, more than 1.5 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus, which has caused approximately 87,000 deaths.
Australia registered 96 new coronavirus infections over the past day, its first increase of less than 100 cases in three weeks, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in Canberra.
“The curve continues to flatten, we consolidate the gains,” Hunt said in a televised press conference.
“Although we have been cautious in the past two weeks seeing the first data, what we are seeing now is real consolidation.”
Authorities implore people to stay at home and cancel trips to traditional vacation spots during the long Easter holiday weekend and say that strict movement restrictions could stay in place for at least six months.
The restrictions include a general order to keep people at home, except for essential work or to exercise and buy food, and police have said they will use the threat of fines on the spot to stop people from traveling or socializing at Easter.
“We cannot take it easy, we must remain vigilant, make sure to limit community-to-community transmission,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
Berejiklian has ordered a state legislator to return home to Sydney after being photographed by local media in his beach house outside the city.
Prime Minister of the Tasmanian Island State Peter Gutwein said he would use helicopters and doorknobs of suspected vacation homes to monitor the movements of people.
“The gloves come off, we will check this, the education period is over,” he said.
Federal Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had reached an agreement with Qantas Airways Ltd (QAN.AX) for special flights to repatriate Australians stranded in foreign countries.
The flights are expected to transport people to Peru, Argentina and South Africa at home over the next week, with flights also planned from India and the Philippines.
On Wednesday evening, the federal government approved a package of measures to subsidize the wages of six million people, or a quarter of the population, at a cost of A $ 130 billion ($ 81 billion).
Interactive graph for monitoring the global spread of coronavirus: here
Report by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.