The Australian holiday hotspot of Rottnest Island is about to become a coronavirus quarantine zone, albeit one most people would be happy to quarantined in. Eight hundred Australian passengers from the Vasco da Gama cruise ship will reside on the 19-square-kilometer (7 square miles) island just off the coast of Perth for 14 days. However, they will not be alone in quarantine, as the island’s “happy” residents, quokkas, will be on hand to put a smile on their faces.
The cruise ship was due to dock at Fremantle Port on Friday, however, strict measures imposed in Western Australia (WA) to contain the COVID-19 outbreak has effectively banned ships from anchoring there. Whilst there is no indication at present that anyone onboard the ship is unwell, officials in WA have made the decision to allow all Australians to be transferred to Rottnest Island.
All visitors have been ordered off the island, and accommodation, catering, and medical facilities have been prepared for the arrival of these new guests.
ABC has reported that WA Premier Mark McGowan thought the idea of Rottnest as a potential quarantine site sounded almost “ridiculous,” when the preparations began. "But I'm so pleased we made that decision a couple of days ago, because we now need it," he said.
On the island with these cruise ship passengers will be around 10,000 quokkas. The small marsupials have attracted a lot of attention from tourists in recent years due to their irresistible smile. Other populations exist in Western Australia, but overall the species is listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss, altered fire patterns, and predation by feral animals. Due to their increased popularity, there are several tips to ensure the safeguarding of the quokkas, including to not touch or feed them, and to let them approach you, rather than chasing them.
Whilst the Australian cruise ship passengers will be ferried from the Vasco de Gama cruise ship to the white sandy beaches, crystal-clear blue water, and grinning quokkas on Rottnest, others will be forced to remain aboard the vessel. Passengers and crew who are foreigners, including 109 New Zealanders and 33 from the UK, will only be allowed to disembark if they need urgent medical attention or to go directly to the international airport when arrangements are made.
These rules from the WA government also apply to other ships off the coast of Perth that are looking to dock. The Magnifica and Artania ships, both of which have no Australian passengers or crew, are currently anchored away from Fremantle port. Two-hundred and fifty passengers on board the Magnifica have reported feeling unwell, whilst on the Artania seven people have tested positive for COVID-19. In a life-threatening emergency, the passengers will be allowed to disembark and receive medical attention, McGowan confirmed.
This precautionary approach has been adopted by WA, after thousands of passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, more than a hundred of whom later tested positive for COVID-19.
Earlier this year, the quarantined cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, hit the headlines as it became home to a large cluster of coronavirus cases. A new study has documented how SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the respiratory disease, was found on ship surfaces more than two weeks after the vessels were vacated.