New swine flu cases are suspected aboard a cruise ship that had an outbreak among passengers during an earlier trip, and authorities are now considering a quarantine of the entire vessel and its 2,000 people, an official said Thursday.
The passengers are being kept aboard the Pacific Dawn for the moment while tests are competed on three sick crewmembers and a passenger, though they are not formally under quarantine yet, Health Minister Nicole Roxon said.
The government would have "no hesitation" in quarantining the entire ship if health officials find it necessary, Roxon told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Thursday.
"Everyone understands that the key to what we are trying to do is make sure we don't let this disease spread any faster than it has to," Roxon said.
Authorities have been criticized for allowing the ship to leave Sydney on Monday bound for Australia's Great Barrier Reef despite scores of passengers from a previous cruise that disembarked there hours earlier exhibiting flu symptoms.
It is not known whether the sick crewmembers were also aboard the previous cruise. The ship has not left Australian waters. Roxon said anyone on the Pacific Dawn exhibiting flu symptoms would be isolated on board from other passengers and crew. The cruise ship has been stopped off the northeast Australian coast and a boat from the Queensland state port of Gladstone on Wednesday collected swabs from the sick crewmembers and passenger. The Pacific Dawn is due to dock at the Queensland tourist resort of Port Douglas on Friday.
Australia had recorded 67 cases of swine flu by late Wednesday and authorities warn that the number is set to rise steeply. The virus has sickened more than 12,000 people and been linked to more than a 100 deaths worldwide, with the majority of the fatalities in Mexico.