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More than 80 passengers on board Greg Mortimer cruise ship test positive for COVID-19

Cruise operator Aurora Expeditions confirmed on Monday that after Uruguayan medical teams boarded the Greg Mortimer to test all on board for COVID-19, 81 tests had come back positive, 45 negative, and another 90 results remain pending, due within the next 24 hours.

Six people, including at least one Australian man in his 60s, had already been evacuated from the ship after falling seriously ill over the past week, and are now being treated in hospital in Montevideo.

A spokeswoman for Aurora Expeditions said all others on board who tested positive were “currently asymptomatic” after being assessed by infectious disease specialists.

Aurora “has been working on finalising charters and flights for all on board with the aim of disembarking everyone as soon as possible,” she said. “This has been extraordinarily complicated given most commercial routes have stopped and the majority of airlines have discontinued flying and access to charter planes is difficult,” the spokeswoman said.

Disembarkation plans are now being considered for three groups: those who tested negative for COVID-19, those who tested positive for COVID-19 but are well, and those who tested positive for COVID-19 and are showing symptoms.

An Australian passenger said the ship’s cabins had been “triaged” into green, yellow and red groups with a note indicating status pasted to each door.

Ms Zacharin said Aurora’s plan for disembarking the passengers is “very unclear” and its messages, including an announcement on Sunday that everyone should prepare to disembark, had been “confusing”.

“Nobody really knows what’s going on at all. It’s very confusing and there’s no clear plan for exit for anybody.”

She said there was no plan for what the dozens of people on board with COVID-19, but no symptoms, would do. “Wait 14 days to see if they get sick? The longer we wait the less likely there will be any transport available,” she said.

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Ms Zacharin said her husband had high praise for the Uruguayan medical teams who had been “extremely helpful and professional”, but said she did not want anybody on the ship with COVID-19 to have to rely on the humanitarian response of a small country like Uruguay.

She said there was still no word from Aurora or Australian authorities including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of any planes being chartered.

“The burden of care should not be Uruguay. It should be our government for our citizens,” she said.

A spokeswoman for DFAT said the department was “working closely with Aurora Expeditions and the Uruguayan government to assist the Australian passengers on board the Greg Mortimer, including those passengers who have been transferred from the ship to receive medical attention’.

“We thank the Uruguayan government for ongoing assistance with the passengers on board the vessel,” she said.

DFAT was working with Aurora Expeditions “to support the company to make arrangements to return Australian passengers,” the spokeswoman said.

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