Cruising on the Ruby Princess: the Canberra seniors who survived COVID-19

Communities@Work 20 October 2020
Frank and Christine Wybenga

Frank and Christine Wybenga were passengers on the Ruby Princess. Photo: Supplied.

With only 113 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the ACT so far, chances are you may not know anyone who has caught the virus that has stopped us in our tracks. Meet Canberra couple Frank and Christine Wybenga, who caught coronavirus on that cruise. Aged 84 and 77, Frank and Christine were among 2,700 passengers on board the Ruby Princess in March this year for a 13-day cruise to New Zealand.

Little did they know that their cruise ship would become the single largest source of coronavirus in the country, responsible for around 10 per cent of all infections in Australia. The ship has been linked to at least 22 deaths, and more than 600 passengers (including themselves) have contracted the virus.

With so many terrible stories circulating about COVID-19, Frank and Christine wanted to share the story about their own experience.

The Ruby Princess

The Ruby Princess cruise in March 2020 became the source for around 10% of all COVID-19 infections in Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Frank and Christine had been enjoying their cruise, with no idea of the unfolding health crisis around them.

“We later found out 128 passengers were sick on board,” explained Christine. “But we never saw anyone being sick. Everything was normal. When it was time to leave the ship we were expecting hold-ups but we were just given a form and told to go into isolation for two weeks when we got home.”

So Frank and Christine disembarked, took a taxi to the railway station and caught a train to Canberra. The day after they got home, they began to feel ill.

“I was aching and could hardly move,” recalled Christine. “I was so tired for nearly two weeks. I didn’t want to eat. Everything was too much for me.”

Frank agreed, “I had the same thing. Even a cup of coffee tasted awful! And you virtually couldn’t move, you know. And that’s not me, because I’m always on the go.”

When the drive-through testing clinic opened at the EPIC Showground in Mitchell, Frank and Christine decided to get tested. The results came back from ACT Health two days later. Positive.

“Towards the end of those two weeks I got really bad headaches for a few days. When that stopped and we had three days of no symptoms, the doctor from the health department said we were finally in the clear,” Christine said.

Frank had nothing but praise for ACT Health. “The ACT health department rang us every morning to see how we were,” he said. “They kept an eye on us. They were very good.

“We were lucky that things weren’t worse for us, but I think having a positive mental attitude and relatively good health overall made a big difference to how we got through it. We make sure we exercise regularly. Christine and I go for regular walks and I also ride my bike. We stay as fit as we can.”

Frank and Christine credit their positive mental wellbeing to an active social life. “A lot of seniors just stay at home and become very lonely,” said Christine. “We try to do something every day because we think it’s really important to stay connected to other people. Communities@Work have a great seniors program. We love going to their Tuesday group, catching up with friends and having a cuppa.”

Hobbies at home

Keeping socially connected through regular online hobby and chat sessions helps seniors maintain mental wellbeing when isolated at home. Photo: Supplied.

While Communities@Work’s in-centre seniors program were suspended, they ran weekly online group activities including gardening, cooking, exercise, bingo and craft, as well as assisted shopping trips and deliveries of activities to do at home to help their senior clients stay in touch with each other and minimise feelings of social isolation. Due to Canberra’s COVID-free status, the in-centre program has recently resumed, but in a modified form and with reduced numbers to ensure a safe environment for clients.

Visit their website for more information.

This is a sponsored article, though all opinions are the author’s own. For more information on paid content, see our sponsored content policy.


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