MONTEVIDEO – Uruguay on Saturday morning repatriated 112 passengers from Australia and New Zealand who were stranded in a coronavirus-hit cruise ship for about two weeks off South American country.
A chartered flight arranged by the Australian government and Aurora Expeditions, the operator of the Greg Mortimer ship, took off from the Carrasco International Airport around 1.40 am with 112 Australian and New Zealand passengers.
Uruguayan Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said three of the five passengers evacuated earlier after they experienced respiratory problems also boarded the flight.
Talvi said providing humanitarian aid was not an option but an ethical imperative for the government of the South American nation, one of the favorite destinations for the cruise industry.
Many tourists remained stranded in Uruguay as the nations across the world closed their border following the global outbreak of the coronavirus, tourists.
However, some 1,000 people from 40 countries have reached their destinations with the mediation of Uruguay’s foreign affairs ministry and different embassies.
The evacuation operation of the Greg Mortimer, an Australian ship, was complicated as the majority of the people on board the vessel were Covid-19 positive.
The cruise ship sailed from Ushuaia in Argentina towards the Canary Islands with 132 passengers and 85 crewmembers.
It reached Montevideo when one of its occupants - the first to be evacuated - suffered health troubles on Mar.31.
Rescuers evacuated five more passengers and two crew personnel and hospitalized them in Montevideo for the treatment of respiratory problems due to Covid-19. Two of them remain in ICU.
On Apr. 5, laboratory personnel, equipped with 216 test kits, entered the ship to determine how many occupants were infected.
The majority of them tested positive even as they were asymptomatic or showed slight symptoms.
The Uruguayan foreign ministry then banned the passengers and crew from disembarking. The Australian government then flew in a plane for their repatriation.
Greg Mortimer was docked on Friday soon after 6.30 pm (9.30 pm) at Montevideo quay with a large banner on the starboard that read, “Gracias Uruguay” (Thanks Uruguay) along with four yellow hearts painted on it.
The operation concluded amid strict security measures in and around the vicinity.
Passengers who tested negative and those who tested positive were bussed out separately.
The caravan set off through the entire coastline avenue of Montevideo to avoid traffic on the streets of the capital. People applauded it as it passed the streets.
The vehicles then drove directly to the runway without the passengers, who carried just hand luggage, having to go through physical immigration check.
Talvi said the rest of the passengers of the cruise would remain in quarantine on board the ship that will dock an hour and a half away from the Montevideo port where it was since Mar.31.
The minister said that after the quarantine period is over “the passengers (including the British) could return via commercial lines.”
British Ambassador to Uruguay, Ian Duddy tweeted: “We are working on plans to get the UK and other European passengers home. It’s not easy and we have to respect Uruguay’s sanitary controls.”
Uruguay is in a health emergency since Mar.13 after the first four patients tested Covid-19 positive. However, there is no mandatory quarantine.
According to the latest figures released on Friday by the authorities, the South American Country has 495 infected individuals. There have been seven Covid-19 deaths so far.