Three hospitalized Australians to join liner evacuees

Montevideo (AFP) –


Three Australians that were undergoing hospital treatment for coronavirus will be among more than 100 passengers from a stranded cruise ship to be flown home on Saturday, Uruguay's foreign ministry told AFP.

Following an agreement between the governments of Uruguay and Australia, and the Greg Mortimer's Australian owner Aurore Expeditions, 112 Australian and New Zealander passengers will be transferred from the ship to a plane at Montevideo's international airport then flown to Melbourne on a specially chartered flight.

The liner has been stranded 20 kilometers off the port of Montevideo in the Rio de la Plata for two weeks after dozens of people aboard tested positive for the virus.

The three Australians are a couple who were brought ashore and taken to hospital on Wednesday suffering from pneumonia, and another person who had been receiving clinical attention since last week.

In total, eight people have been evacuated from the Greg Mortimer and admitted to hospitals in Montevideo.

Among them were five Australians, a Briton and two Filipino crew members.

The three that will be allowed to board the medically equipped Airbus A350 are all in sufficiently good health to travel.

The other five remain in stable condition, the foreign ministry said, although the two remaining Australians are in intensive care.

One of the two Filipino crew is due to be released back to quarantine on the boat.

Of the 217 people aboard -- both crew and passengers -- 128 tested positive for coronavirus.

Those taking the flight to Melbourne will be transferred from the ship to the plane "under strict sanitary measures," Uruguay's Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said on Thursday.

Uruguay's government considers all people aboard the Greg Mortimer to be infected, even if they haven't tested positive for the virus.

The operation will begin on Friday evening with the flight taking off in the early hours of Saturday.

The tourists will be taken on buses with a police escort straight to the runway without entering the terminal.

"There will be practically no human contact" between the passengers and others, Talvi said this week.

Aboard the plane, passengers will be "seated by test results and level of care required by passenger," said Aurore in a statement.

The company said it was covering the transfer costs for all passengers and that the New Zealand government was organizing further travel on from Melbourne for its citizens.

Even after the evacuation, more than 80 crew members and around 20 Europeans and Americans will remain on board the Greg Mortimer.

Of those that have tested positive for the virus "they will have to wait until they test negative" before heading home via Sao Paulo, Aurore said on Tuesday.

Those that have already tested negative will be allowed to leave in the coming days, provided they pass another test first.