A humanitarian mission ends well in Uruguay

Published April 15, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

E CARTOON APR 16, 2020

Australian Foreign  Minister  Marise Payne  was all praise last Saturday for  the Uruguayan government as over 100 Australians and New Zealanders  left  Uruguay on a chartered flight after being stranded for two weeks  aboard  the virus-infected  cruise  ship  Greg Mortimer  at Rio de Plata 20 kilometers  from Uruguay’s coast  in Montevideo.

The ship had been blocked from docking after 128 of 217 people  aboard  were  found positive for coronavirus.  The Uruguayan and Australian governments  quickly agreed on a ”sanitary corridor”  from the port to the international airport, where the ship passengers boarded a flight for Melbourne, Australia, ending their nightmare of an enforced stay aboard  the detained  ship.

Minister Payne  expressed her special thanks to Uruguay’s  Foreign Minister Ernesto  Talvi, along with the health, emergency, and other workers involved, for the special  arrangements  that  enabled  the 217 people aboard the cruise ship – both those who had tested  negative and those confirmed  with  the virus —  to fly home.

The  passengers  in two  other cruise ships had  earlier suffered so many difficulties due to government restrictions brought about by fear of the emerging coronavirus  pandemic.

The Diamond Princess was detained off the coast of Yokohama early in February by Japan’s Ministry of Health  which  laid out  testing  and quarantine protocols for all the guests and crew. The virus, however, spread  while  the ship was docked.  Neither  the Japanese government  nor the ship management  would accept any blame for what  became the biggest concentration  of coronavirus infection  outside of China at the time. Over  540 get infected out  of about 3,700 passengers and crew during the quarantine period.

A  second  cruise ship, the Grand Princess, was held off the coast of  San  Francisco in the United States about a month later, after a passenger died  after  testing  positive for coronavirus. The ship had sailed from  San  Francisco to Mexico, on to  Hawaii, then  sailed back to San Francisco. It was, however, told to stay in international waters  off  the coast of California, as the passengers were tested, with  a helicopter flying the blood samples every day to a laboratory in California.

The last few weeks have seen many cruise  ships facing problems around the world as the COVID-19 infected many of their passengers and port  countries  feared  them  as  bearers of the epidemic.  The Montevideo  incident  turned out to be different from all previous  reports on  desperate passengers  stranded on detained ships. Uruguayans  waved  goodbye  as the Australians and New Zealanders  rode to the airport where one jubilant passenger kissed the runway tarmac.

It  was one virus nightmare  which had ended well, for the  officials had  agreed to work together in what Uruguay’s Foreign  Minister  Talvi  called a “complex but necessary humanitarian mission.”