Passengers on board an Antarctic cruise ship will be evacuated after more than half of them tested positive for coronavirus.
Uruguay said on Tuesday it has agreed to repatriate 112 Australians and New Zealanders from the vessel, which has been stranded in the La Plata River near capital Montevideo since 27 March, with most of the 219 passengers infected by COVID-19.
The British passengers on board will likely be evacuated afterwards, according to Aurora Expeditions, which owns the liner, named the Greg Mortimer.
A spokesman for Uruguay’s Foreign Ministry said it reached an agreement with Australia for a charter flight to arrive on Thursday to take the 96 Australian passengers and 16 New Zealanders to Melbourne.
The passengers will first be moved by boat for the 20 miles (32km) to Montevideo and from there on buses to the airport, under strict health security measures, the spokesman said.
Aurora Expeditions reported that of the 217 tests carried out on the ship’s passengers and crew, 128 were positive and 89 were negative.
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In addition to Australians and New Zealanders, there are people from the US, the UK, Jamaica and several more countries aboard, according to official data.
Uruguay is talking with the governments of those countries about how and when their citizens will return home, the spokesman said.
Aurora said in a statement: “We have been working on charters and flights for all on board with the aim of disembarking our passengers as soon as possible.’
“While our preferred plan had been to disembark all passengers simultaneously, the nature of the situation and the difficultly in securing flights has meant it is likely that the Australian and New Zealand passengers will leave the vessel before our European (UK included) and North American passengers.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has infected 1.4 million people worldwide, with 83,000 deaths and 307,000 recoveries so far, according to John Hopkins University.