MONTEVIDEO: Uruguay said on Tuesday (Apr 7) it has authorised a humanitarian flight to evacuate Australian and New Zealand passengers stranded on a coronavirus infected cruise ship.

About 128 of the 217 people on board the Australian-owned Greg Mortimer, including passengers and crew, have tested positive for the deadly virus.

Six of those have been taken off suffering from a “life-threatening” illness for treatment in the capital Montevideo.

The plight of the Greg Mortimer is the latest affecting the global cruise industry, which has seen vessels refused entry to ports and others locked down after new-coronavirus cases were confirmed onboard during the pandemic.

The cruise ship’s owner, Aurore Expeditions, has “contracted a medical plane … to repatriate the Australian and New Zealander passengers,” Uruguay’s foreign ministry said, adding that the plane had been given permission to arrive on Thursday.

READ: Australia upbeat over slowing COVID-19 spread, urges vigilance

About 100 Australians are aboard, and negotiations were underway to allow the New Zealanders to fly with them, Aurore said.

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

The plane will carry passengers who test both positive and negative for the virus.

Map showing the voyage of the Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer, which has cases of COVID-19 on board. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Ramallo)

It is due to arrive from Portugal and then fly on to Melbourne, after which all passengers will be required to spend two weeks in quarantine.

Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said on Twitter that an agreement had been reached through “intense conversations and very close cooperation with the Australian government”.

“EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO HOME”

As for the European and American passengers on the Greg Mortimer, they must “wait until they test negative” before organizing their repatriation via Sao Paulo, the company said.

There are five Britons on board, the British embassy in Montevideo told AFP.

“We are working relentlessly to find a way to bring them safely back to the UK,” said spokeswoman Veronica Psetizki.

Some of those on the ship are keeping their spirits up despite the large numbers of passengers, mostly elderly people, to have fallen ill.

“Everybody wants to go home. It’s not a nightmare but it’s not the ideal situation,” Charley Nadin, 67, an Australian anesthetist, told AFP by WhatsApp.

READ: Commentary: COVID-19 outbreak has become an existential crisis for the cruise industry

“There are a lot of people on board who’ve never been through any difficulties and this is pretty frightening for a lot of people.”

He and fellow Australian Maurice Clifford, 71, an orthopedic surgeon, boarded the vessel in Ushuaia, in the far south of Argentina on Mar 14.

They were due to travel to Antarctica, South Georgia and Elephant Island for the holiday of a lifetime.

But on Mar 21, with border closings and lockdowns in South America and Australia, the exploration was called off.

The Greg Mortimer – named after an Australian mountaineer who scaled Mount Everest – set sail for the Falkland Islands but was denied entry there as authorities did not have the facilities to cope with COVID-19 cases.

The ship headed on to the only port along the Atlantic coast of South America still open, Montevideo.

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