MONTEVIDEO (AFP) – More than 80 passengers and crew aboard an Australian cruise ship off South America have tested positive for the coronavirus, the cruise company and officials in Uruguay announced on Monday (April 6).
Uruguay’s public health ministry said six passengers with “life-threatening” illness had been taken off the Greg Mortimer for treatment in Montevideo, but the rest of more than 200 passengers and crew remain stranded on the vessel anchored 24km off the coast.
The vessel was on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia with Australian tour company Aurora Expeditions, leaving the Argentine port of Ushuaia on March 15.
Aurora said 81 passengers and crew had tested positive for Covid-19 after being assessed by a team of Uruguayan infectious disease specialists who were brought aboard at the weekend.
“We know that there is a relatively high percentage of infected people but only six required to be transferred to Montevideo hospitals because they were at risk,” Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi told local Channel 10 news.
Some 90 results are still pending, and 45 others have tested negative, the company said.
Aurora said it had begun the “extraordinarily complicated” task of repatriating passengers, as most airlines had stopped flying “and access to charter planes is difficult”.
This would require passengers to disembark in three groups, those who had tested negative for Covid-19 and were well, those who were positive but either recovering or with vague symptoms and those who are ill.
“We are confident that group one, well people who have tested negative, will be able to disembark and leave,” the company said in a statement on Monday.
The company said it was seeking the assistance of the Australian government for help with those who were asymptomatic or who had only mild symptoms.
For those who were ill, it said, “we are working with the Uruguayan Health Ministry and its medical director to develop the best plan to have them cared for and returned to their home countries as soon as their health allows”.