More Than Half of Passengers on Antarctica Cruise Test Positive For Coronavirus

Six passengers have been brought ashore in Uruguay for further medical treatment and are currently in stable condition

cruise ship Greg Mortimer

Almost 60 percent of people on board a cruise ship bound for Antarctica have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the cruise line Aurora Expeditions confirmed.

The Greg Mortimer, a relatively small ship operated by the Australia-based travel company, is currently stranded off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay, holding 217 passengers and crew members from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and several European countries, according to a press release.

On Tuesday night, Aurora Expeditions confirmed that 128 of the 217 had tested positive for coronavirus, and 89 had tested negative. Six had previously been brought ashore to Montevideo for further medical treatment, and are currently in stable condition.

A representative for the cruise line did not immediately reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

The cruise, which was intended to bring passengers on a multi-week excursion to Antarctica and South Georgia Island, departed on March 15 — before the company suspended all sailings in response to guidance from the World Health Organization.

Now, Aurora says, they are working with Uruguayan health professionals to treat those on board and get them home to their respective countries.

The passengers remaining on the boat who are confirmed to be positive for COVID-19 are all currently asymptomatic and none have fevers. It was not immediately clear whether they had been exhibiting symptoms previously.

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“We have been working on charters and flights for all onboard with the aim of disembarking our passengers as soon as possible,” the press release states.

Currently, they expect all Australian passengers to fly home on Thursday or Friday, on a plane that has been outfitted with medical facilities to treat people suffering from the virus. “It is likely we will separate the positive and negative passengers on the flight home into different cabin areas,” the statement reads.

The company is currently in talks with the Australian government to allow the New Zealanders on the cruise aboard the Melbourne-bound plane as well, and let them “complete their quarantine in Australia before returning home.”

For U.K. and U.S. passengers, it’s a little more complicated: They must test negative before they’re allowed to fly home.

“We have been advised that European and American passengers that have tested positive to COVID-19 unfortunately must wait until they have a negative test result, after which we will be able to organize their departure via Sao Paulo [Brazil] and then to their final destination,” the company stated

The cruise line plans to retest passengers every two or three days. Once they test negative, they should hopefully be able to complete their quarantine on land.

It’s unclear who will be paying for the repatriation flights.

On March 9, the U.S. State Department issued a warning that U.S. citizens “should not travel by cruise ship” amid the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the “cruise ship environment” can foster an “increased risk of infection.” The CDC issued a similar statement.

A few days later, on March 13, most major cruise lines agreed to suspend voyages for the safety of their crew and passengers.

There have been several deadly outbreaks on cruise ships in the last few months.

Since the beginning of the global spread of COVID-19, several cruise ships have seen severe — and deadly — outbreaks of the virus.

Japan Screens Cruise Ship Diamond Princess For The Wuhan Coronavirus
Carl Court/Getty

The Diamond Princess cruise ship, was quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, for weeks in February with sick passengers on board. A total of 621 people eventually tested positive. According to Reuters, seven former passengers have now died. Some of the infected passengers from that ship have since become among the first to take part in a coronavirus drug trial.

A second ship, the Grand Princess, was quarantined off San Francisco after 21 people on board tested positive for the illness in March. That ship has since docked in the port of Oakland and those on board quarantined on land.

Luis Acosta/Getty

More recently, Holland America reported 4 dead and 233 ill on two of its ships heading for Ft. Lauderdale as of March 27, after being turned away from ports in South America.

On April 3, one person died on a Celebrity Cruise ship and two people were air lifted off a Royal Caribbean ship, both near Florida.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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