Uruguay said on Tuesday it has authorised a humanitarian flight to evacuate Australian and New Zealand passengers stranded on a coronavirus infected cruise ship.
About 128 of the 217 people on board the Australian-owned Greg Mortimer – including passengers and crew – have tested positive for the deadly virus.
Six of those, three Australians, two Filipinos and a Briton, have been taken off for treatment in the capital Montevideo.
Uruguay’s Minister of Public Health Daniel Salinas said on Tuesday that the six being treated in private clinics in Montevideo were in a stable condition. Two were in intensive care.
The plight of the Greg Mortimer is the latest affecting the global cruise industry, which has seen vessels refused entry to ports and others locked down after new-coronavirus cases were confirmed onboard during the pandemic.
The cruise ship’s owner Aurora Expeditions Pty Ltd has “contracted a medical plane . . . to repatriate the Australian and New Zealander passengers”, said Uruguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adding that the plane had been permitted to arrive on Thursday.
About 100 Australians are aboard, and negotiations were underway to allow the New Zealanders to fly with them, Aurora Expeditions said. Of those still on the ship, no-one was suffering from a fever.
The Airbus A340 plane contracted to fly the Aussies and Kiwis home “is configured with medical facilities aboard . . . to look after the health and security of everyone”, said Aurora Expeditions.
The plane will carry passengers whether they test positive or negative for the virus.
It is due to arrive from Portugal and then fly on to Melbourne, after which all passengers will be required to spend two weeks in quarantine.
As for the European and US passengers on the Greg Mortimer, they must “wait until they test negative” before organising their repatriation via Sao Paulo, Brazil, said Aurora Expeditions.
Although the ship has been anchored in Rio de la Plata about 24km off the port for the last week, health authorities from Montevideo have been aboard to help passengers.
Sebastian Yancev, a doctor who boarded the ship, said the high infection rate was due to mistakes made in isolation measures, including leaving people who had tested negative with those who were positive.
Yancev said Ushuaia, where the ship was docked from March 14-15, was the likely source of the contagion.