MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay: The virus-stricken Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer will be allowed to dock in Montevideo and the passengers will be flown home, Uruguay’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday (Apr 8).

The ship, with more than 100 infected people on board, is anchored some 24 kilometres  offshore and will be allowed to dock on Friday.

Passengers will be taken in buses to the city’s international airport, officials told AFP.

“The docking of the Greg Mortimer cruise ship is initially scheduled for Friday afternoon. The objective is to have a sanitary cordon to Carrasco Airport,” a Uruguayan navy statement said.

A medical plane to evacuate Australian and New Zealand passengers will arrive in Uruguay on Thursday and will depart at dawn on Saturday for Melbourne, foreign ministry sources said.

READ: COVID-19: Uruguay approves flight to evacuate Australian, New Zealand passengers from cruise ship Greg Mortimer

An Australian couple suffering from a deteriorating COVID-19 condition were evacuated from the ship earlier on Wednesday, bringing to eight the number of passengers and crew to have been hospitalised in the Uruguayan capital.

So far, 128 of the more than 200 people aboard have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The liner, run by Australian company Aurore Expeditions, has been anchored off the port of Montevideo in the Rio de la Plata since Mar 27.

Uruguay, which is assuming that everyone aboard has contracted the virus due to the lack of isolation measures deployed on the ship when the first cases emerged, had earlier said only those whose condition was life-threatening would be allowed off.

‘VERY DIFFICULT SITUATION’

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed on Wednesday that authorities were working together to try to repatriate as many Australians as possible.

“The Greg Mortimer is a very difficult situation,” said Payne.

“So we are working very closely to try to finalize this charter flight as soon as possible and to ensure that the maximum number of Australians who are on that vessel are able to fly.”

That includes those who have tested positive and negative. Once arriving in Melbourne they will all be required to stay in isolation for two weeks.

The Airbus A340 plane contracted to fly them home “is configured with medical facilities aboard… to look after the health and security of everyone,” said Aurore.

However, there are no plans yet to repatriate a small number of European and American passengers.

They must “wait until they test negative” before organising their repatriation via Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aurore said.

Those to have tested negative could be evacuated in the coming days “subject to a second test and permission from the Uruguayan government,” Aurore said.

The cruise ship was originally due to tour Antarctica, South Georgia and Elephant Island but the expedition was called off on Mar 21 after South American countries and Australia started closing their borders and imposing strict lockdown regulations.

With ports all along the Atlantic coast of South America closed, the Greg Mortimer was forced to sail to Montevideo, more than 2,600 kilometres from South Georgia.

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