An Australian cruise line is working to disembark a stricken Antarctic cruise ship in which approximately 60% of passengers and crew have been infected with a coronavirus.
© Provided by The Guardian Photography: Pablo Porciuncula / AFP via Getty Images The Greg Mortimer has been anchored 20 km off the coast of Uruguay since March 27, but authorities in the South American country have so far refused to allow passenger disembarkation.
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The operator of the vessel, Aurora Expeditions, said on Tuesday that of 132 passengers and 85 crew members, 128 people tested positive for Covid-19. Most on board are believed to be Australian, although there are also citizens of New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
“We found a ship where almost everyone was infected,” said Karina Rando, one of the 21 Uruguayan doctors dispatched to the ship. “We did everything we could to prevent our own infection. Most of the passengers are fine. “
Many of those who tested positive are still asymptomatic, but could still be at risk, Rando said.
“There are many patients over the age of 70, some of whom have other chronic illnesses such as heart and lung disease,” she said. “These patients could fall seriously ill tomorrow even if they looked good today.”
The $ 65 million ship left on March 15 from the Argentinian port of Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. He was to embark on a 16-day cruise to Antarctica and South Georgia, named “In the Footsteps of Shackleton” after the British polar explorer.
Symptoms of the coronavirus began to appear shortly after departure, and the ship diverted to the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. Even the ship’s doctor fell ill with a fever and was unable to perform his duties.
“We have made it clear that the poor health and isolation of the crew makes it difficult to maintain the same level of essential services on board,” Aurora Expeditions told passengers on April 2.
Uruguay refused authorization to moor the vessel and also refused to authorize passengers or crew to disembark.
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The decision was finally overturned over the weekend when a Uruguayan navy ship was dispatched to Greg Mortimer to remove six seriously ill passengers and take them to the British hospital in Montevideo.
On Saturday, the Uruguayan Navy tweeted a video of a passenger – apparently a Briton with pneumonia in both lungs – jumping from the moving cruise ship to the military ship for transportation to the hospital in the Uruguayan capital.
“The people on board the ship are calm but they are anxious to go home,” said PA Marcelo Girard, a doctor at a Uruguayan medical facility where two people from the cruise ship are being treated.
Australian and New Zealand passengers will board an emergency flight to Melbourne on Thursday, Uruguayan authorities confirmed on Tuesday afternoon.
The cost per passenger is around $ 9,300 and the cruise operator has asked the Australian government to help pay for its expenses. Upon landing, passengers will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The world is grappling with the COVID-19 epidemic, which the World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic.
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The other passengers will have to wait longer. “We have been informed that European and American passengers who have tested positive for Covid-19, unfortunately have to wait until they get a negative test result, after which we can arrange their departure via Sao Paulo and then to their final destination, “says the company.
Uruguay has 406 confirmed cases of coronavirus and six deaths.