Most people on Antarctica cruise ship have coronavirus

Montevideo: Nearly 60 per cent of 217 people – many from Australia – on board a cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay have tested positive for the coronavirus, the ship's operator says.

"There are currently no fevers on board and all are asymptomatic," said Aurora Expeditions, the Australian operator of the Greg Mortimer ship that is working to disembark the crew and passengers and arrange flights to their home countries.

Many of the passengers on the Greg Mortimer cruise ship, pictured, are Australians.

The Greg Mortimer departed March 15 on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia that was titled In Shackleton's Footsteps, a reference to the polar explorer who led British expeditions to the region and died there in 1922.

Of 217 people tested on the vessel, 128 were positive for the virus that causes the COVID-2019 disease and 89 tested negative, Aurora Expeditions said.

Another six people who were evacuated from the ship are in stable condition and being treated in Montevideo.

The people on the ship are calm but they are eager to go home, said Marcelo Girard, a doctor at a Uruguayan medical facility where two people from the Greg Mortimer are being treated.

Australian passengers, and possibly those from New Zealand, are likely to fly home on Thursday or Friday on an Airbus 340 that has been refitted – with people who have the virus and those who do not travelling in separate cabin areas, according to Aurora Expeditions.

The cost per passenger is about $15,025 and the cruise ship operator has asked the Australian government for help with expenses.

The plan would require the passengers to undergo a 14-day quarantine on arrival at a facility in Melbourne, the company said.

US and European passengers who tested negative will hopefully be able to depart later in the week, following a second test and permission from the Uruguayan government, Aurora Expeditions said.

Those who tested positive must wait until they test negative before flying home.

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