Antarctic cruise ship to be evacuated after 60% test positive for coronavirus

The Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer, center, lies at anchor surrounded by two cargo ships off the port of Montevideo, Uruguay.
The Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer, center, lies at anchor surrounded by two cargo ships off the port of Montevideo, Uruguay.(Matilde Campodonico/AP)

Passengers aboard the Greg Mortimer cruise ship that has been stuck off the coast of Uruguay for more than two weeks will begin evacuation Thursday, but it’ll cost them.
Of the 217 people who have been tested for coronavirus aboard the Australian liner, including passengers and crew, almost 60% have tested positive, the company, Aurora Expeditions, said in a statement Tuesday.
The ship, which departed in mid-March, was supposed to take passengers to Antarctica and south Georgia.
Six people requiring more intense care have already been evacuated to medical facilities in Montevideo, but the Uruguayan government had refused to allow anyone to disembark until late Tuesday, when officials announced that it had authorized a medical flight evacuation of New Zealand and Australian passengers for Thursday.

“We have been working on charters and flights for all onboard with the aim of disembarking our passengers as soon as possible,” Aurora said in a statement.
“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 passengers will be flown back to Australia on an Airbus A340 that has been refitted to act as a medical plane, which will separate positive and negative people in different cabin areas, Aurora said.
But there’s a catch: the flight will cost almost $10,000 for each person.
Aurora said it is working with the Australian government to try to fund the steep cost, acknowledging that the price “is not viable for many people.”

Once the plane lands in Melbourne, all passengers will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

American and European passengers who have tested negative may be allowed to disembark later this week, pending a second negative test and permission from the Uruguay government. Those who have tested positive will not be allowed to leave until they test negative.

A passenger who boarded the Greg Mortimer in mid-March, even as multiple cruise liners were stranded at sea with coronavirus outbreaks, said he thought he would be safe.

“For several days on board we thought we were in a nice, safe bubble away from the problems of the world and were disillusioned when, six days later, fellow passengers’ temperatures started to rise," John Clifford told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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