MONTEVIDEO: Uruguay said on Tuesday (April 7) it had allowed humanitarian flights to evacuate Australian and New Zealand passengers who were stranded on a cruise ship infected with the corona virus.
About 128 of the 217 people on board the Australian Greg Mortimer, including passengers and crew, tested positive for the deadly virus.
Six of them have been taken from suffering because of a “life-threatening disease” to be treated in the capital of Montevideo.
Greg Mortimer’s fate is the latest to affect the global shipping industry, which has seen ships refuse to enter ports and others are locked up after new corona virus cases are confirmed inside ships during a pandemic.
The owner of the cruise ship, Aurore Expeditions, had “contracted a medical plane … to repatriate Australian and New Zealand passengers”, the Uruguayan foreign ministry said, adding that the plane had been given permission to arrive on Thursday.
About 100 Australians climbed, and negotiations are ongoing to allow New Zealand to fly with them, Aurore said.
The Airbus A340 aircraft contracted to fly Aussie and Kiwi back home “is configured with medical facilities on board … to protect the health and safety of all people,” Aurore said.
The aircraft will carry passengers who test positive and negative for the virus.
The plane will arrive from Portugal and then fly to Melbourne, after which all passengers must spend two weeks in quarantine.
Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said on Twitter that the agreement had been reached through “intense conversations and very close cooperation with the Australian government”.
“EVERYONE WANT TO GO TO HOME”
As for European and American passengers at Greg Mortimer, they must “wait until they test negatively” before arranging their return through Sao Paulo, the company said.
There were five British citizens on board, the British embassy in Montevideo told AFP.
“We are working endlessly to find ways to bring them safely back to England,” spokesman Veronica Psetizki said.
Some of those on board remained enthusiastic even though many passengers, mostly elderly people, fell ill.
“Everyone wants to go home. This is not a nightmare but it is not an ideal situation,” Charley Nadin, 67, an Australian anesthesiologist, told AFP by WhatsApp.
“There are many people who have never experienced difficulties and this is very scary for many people.”
He and his Australian colleague Maurice Clifford, 71, an orthopedic surgeon, boarded a ship in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina on March 14.
They will travel to Antarctica, South Georgia and Elephant Island for a holiday of a lifetime.
But on March 21, with border closure and locking in South America and Australia, exploration was canceled.
Greg Mortimer – named after an Australian mountaineer who climbed Mount Everest – sailed into the Falkland Islands but was refused entry there because the authorities did not have the facilities to deal with the COVID-19 case.
The ship headed to the only port along the Atlantic coast of South America is still open, Montevideo.
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