Chile asks to evacuate cruise ship passengers

Santiago (AFP) –


Health authorities in Chile asked for permission on Monday to evacuate the passengers of a cruise ship that has been quarantined over coronavirus fears since Saturday while borders are closed.

More than 200 passengers and crew on the Silver Explorer ship have been in quarantine in the tiny southern port of Caleta Tortel, 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) south of the capital Santiago, after an 82-year-old Briton aboard tested positive for new coronavirus.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich said on Monday that five more passengers had contracted the virus and were taken to a hospital in Puerto Montt, more than 1,000 kilometers away.

Caleta Tortel is in a remote part of Chilean Patagonia, about six hours away from the nearest city. It is renowned for its wooden walkways and staircases connecting homes in a town without roads.

"We've taken the decision to ask the countries whose nationals are present on this ship -- which was due to head to Puerto Montt -- to conduct an evacuation operation from the Puerto Montt airbase," said Manalich.

"We're hugely worried about Calenta Tortel," added the minister.

Calenta Tortel's mayor, Bernardo Lopez, told local media that 800 people in the town were under quarantine, including some tourists who are staying at a makeshift hotel.

The number of recorded new-coronavirus cases in Chile more than doubled between Sunday and Monday to 155, after which the government closed its borders.

Chile had on Saturday also quarantined a second cruise ship, the Azmara Pursuit -- with 665 passengers and nearly 400 crew -- which crossed into Chilean waters from the southern Argentine port of Ushuaia.