“Airline staff, contrary to agreed protocols, allowed passengers to leave the gate area before the health staff had concluded screening a prior flight,” the statement said.
“As a result of this breach, flights will now not be allowed to land in NSW until NSW Health teams are in place to screen them.”
Health officials scrambled through the night to contact the remaining 48 passengers. The department confirmed that screening had since been arranged for 45 passengers, while three had been referred to police, including one who had refused to be screened.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said on Wednesday that the airport had “now put in protocols to ensure that health teams are there and are able to do the screening and no one is allowed to disembark before that happens.”
In a statement, Jetstar acknowledged the issue and said it had refined its disembarkation procedures “to prevent this situation occurring again”.
“We assisted by locating passengers in the terminal who had disembarked without being screened and provided the aircraft manifest to the department to assist them in contacting passengers,” the statement said.
Sydneysider Jacinda Fermanis was one of the 48 passengers who left the airport without screening. She awoke to an email and phone calls from NSW Health early on Wednesday morning, advising that she should have been screened at the airport and instructing her to attend a drive-through screening that day.
“We are really sorry but unfortunately airline staff mistakenly allowed passengers to leave the gate before they had been screened by health staff,” the email said.
“As you have come from Melbourne you need to be screened. If you are unable to get to summer hill [sic] we will send staff to where you are staying to screen you.”
The email stated that passengers would not be tested for COVID-19 at the Summer Hill site unless they were symptomatic.
Ms Fermanis said passengers were instructed to fill out forms with their contact details before disembarking, but there was no one to collect them on the other side.
“We were told to exit the plane row-by-row, and I honestly took my bag from the overhead [locker] and walked out of the plane, and left the airport,” Ms Fermanis said.
“There were no messages, there were no health officials, there were no police, there was truly not a single thing there. I remember holding my form, thinking ‘this is f—ed’.”
Ms Fermanis, from Camperdown, said she had been staying in Fitzroy North and had not visited any of the COVID-19 hotspots while in Melbourne. She said that upon arriving at Melbourne Airport she was temperature tested. She was also asked if she was a NSW resident and advised of the 14-day self-isolation period she would need to undertake upon her arrival.
She said the airline staff handed out a health kit with a face mask and hand sanitiser and she received the form before boarding.
She described the flight as “completely packed”.
“I don’t think there was a spare seat to be honest,” Ms Fermanis said.
She said some passengers asked about filling out the form, but she heard Jetstar staff say multiple times “we’ve never seen this form before, it will be addressed upon landing”.
“Nobody on the Jetstar flight knew what to do.
“I feel like it’s the Ruby Princess all over again,” Ms Fermanis said.”It was quite telling that the actual email itself admitted that the airline staff forgot.”
Ms Fermanis was feeling well on Wednesday but was unable to get to Summer Hill and so was waiting for a health worker to come to her house to screen her.
Under new public health orders, which came into force on Wednesday, people who have been in Victoria must self-isolate for 14 days immediately after entering NSW.
Jetstar has been contacted for comment.
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Lisa Visentin is a state political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.