Some 112 Australian and New Zealand passengers, who have endured days on an adventure ship off the stormy coast of South America, have been allowed off in Uruguay.
The Greg Mortimer was brought alongside at Montevideo and a “sanitary cordon” constructed to Carrasco Airport, a Uruguayan navy statement said.
A medical plane to evacuate Australian and New Zealand passengers will depart at dawn on Saturday for Melbourne, foreign ministry sources said.
The cost to fly each passenger home is about $US9,300 ($A15,025). The cruise ship operator has asked the Australian government for help with expenses, but a statement maintained “Aurora Expeditions insurance will cover repatriation flight cost so there will be no cost to passengers”.
Around 60 per cent of the 217 passengers onboard Aurora Expeditions’ Greg Mortimer have tested positive for coronavirus, said the line.
Overnight, an Australian couple suffering from COVID-19, have been evacuated from the ship. The 59 and 6-year-old were taken from hospital on Wednesday, both with coronavirus and pneumonia, the Uruguayan navy said.
A total of eight people have been transferred to hospitals in Montevideo.
“There are currently no fevers onboard and all are asymptomatic,” said Aurora Expeditions.
Of 217 people, 128 were positive for the virus, while 89 tested negative.
Australian passengers, and possibly those from New Zealand, will fly home on an Airbus 340 that has been refitted – with people who have the virus and those who do not travelling in separate cabin areas, according to Aurora Expeditions.
The plan would require the passengers to undergo a 14-day quarantine on arrival at a facility in Melbourne, the company said.
Those who have the virus will have to wait until they test negative before they fly home.
Dr Annaliese van Dieman, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Victoria said: “We have reports that up to 70 per cent of these patients have tested positive to COVID-19.
“The government has been working very, very closely with the cruise ship operators to organise this fight to come back to Australia. The Victorian government will ensure that this flight is met by a number of medical staff, ambulances as required.
“The plan for this is that everybody will be assessed when they get off the flight via a medical team. Everybody who needs to go to hospital will go to hospital and the remaining passengers will go to quarantine in hotels as is the process for all international arrivals at this point in time.”
The Greg Mortimer departed March 15 on a voyage to Antarctic and South Georgia that followed in the footsteps of the polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton.