A repatriation flight carrying stranded Australians has landed in Melbourne, with reports up to 70 per cent of the passengers are sick with coronavirus.
Vision from the airport shows crews in hazmat suits boarding the plane, while a handful of passengers wearing masks are also seen disembarking then walking towards a smaller aircraft.
It is believed that plane is bound for New Zealand.
The ship’s operator Aurora Expeditions confirmed this week 128 of 217 people on board the Greg Mortimer had tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 70 per cent of the confirmed cases are from Australia and New Zealand.
Medical teams assessed each person as they left the plane on Sunday morning with one patient taken to hospital in an ambulance for a check-up.
The remaining Aussies are now settling into their Melbourne hotels, where they will remain in lockdown for the next two weeks.
The group of 112 Australians and New Zealanders had been stuck on the Greg Mortimer cruise ship, which spent a fortnight stuck off the coast of South America after being rocked by a large outbreak.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne thanked the Uruguayan Government for its help with getting the Aussies out.
Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said two Australian passengers could not be transported home as they were in intensive care at a hospital.
Earlier, Victorian health authorities said a lot of passengers had been hit by the virus.
“Tomorrow we are expecting a flight from Uruguay, which will contain a number of people – over a hundred – from the cruise ship Greg Mortimer that had been cruising around the Antarctic,” Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen said on Saturday.
“We have reports that up to 70 per cent of these patients have tested positive for COVID-19. The government has been working very, very closely with the cruise ship operators to organise this flight to come back to Australia.”
The Greg Mortimer departed on March 15 on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia and had been docked off the coast of Montevideo for the two weeks following March 27.
The flight left Montevideo on Saturday morning, local time, with extensive plans in place to ensure there would be no repeats of the Ruby Princess fiasco.
The order to let thousands of passengers off the Ruby Princess is being investigated by NSW Police after at least a dozen people from the ship died of coronavirus.
“There are obviously medical concerns about that, which is why this entire operation has been meticulously planned. Led by the cruise ship operator, but with the support of the Departments of Health and Foreign Affairs, Border Force and the Victorian Government,” federal deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said.
“This is a very important thing that we have to get right, but equally we have to bring these Australians back.
“I am aware of the detailed plans to meet that aircraft when it arrives tomorrow morning, making sure all of the passengers get a thorough medical assessment.”
The flight out of Montevideo and others from New Delhi, India and Peru are rescue flights organised by the Australian Government.
Australia’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 56 and the total number of infections has gone past 6200.
There are now 6303 total cases, with 2857 in New South Wales, 1265 in Victoria, 974 in Queensland, 429 in South Australia, 514 in Western Australia, 133 in Tasmania, 103 in the Australian Capital Territory and 28 in the Northern Territory.