Thanks, Uruguay

• Claire Leong (in checks) and family greet her parents Jesz and Madge Fleming as they arrive home at Perth Airport.

Family grateful for South Americans’ cruisy response

THE family of a WA couple who spent two weeks in a Uruguayan hospital with Covid-19 have thanked the South American country for their safe return.

Madge and Jesz Fleming contracted the disease aboard the cruise ship Greg Mortimer, which was turned away from several ports before being allowed to dock off Montevideo on March 21. They were among 112 Australian and New Zealand passengers evacuated on a charter flight from Uruguay.


Their daughter, North Perth resident Claire Leong, says her parents were “alone and incredibly vulnerable”.

“I had to have conversations with my dad that you wouldn’t normally have,” Ms Leong said.

“It was an intense experience. I’m lucky my mum and dad survived it because they might not have,” she said. 

Hours before the flight was due to depart, Mr Fleming was still receiving treatment for Covid-19 at the hospital Britannica in Montevideo. He was airlifted from the cruise ship five days earlier with low oxygen levels, and Ms Leong was unsure if he would be cleared to return on the flight to Australia. 

Ms Leong praised the support from Uruguay’s government.

“When you consider what our government has done in relation to cruise ships, [Uruguay] gave the hand of friendship, when most people are running away and scared,” she said.

“My dad felt even though he was in isolation in the hospital and it was a very intense experience, where everyone was gloved and suited up to come and see him, he felt like he was part of a family in that hospital. That was the kindness that was given to him by the cleaners, staff, doctors and nurses,” she said.

For the Flemings the Antarctic cruise was a once in a lifetime opportunity which took years of planning and cost nearly $60,000.  

When the Greg Mortimer departed Ushuaia, Argentina on March 15, all crew and passengers were given temperature screenings prior to boarding. At the time none of the 217 people aboard were displaying Covid symptoms.

Ms Leong described said the situation on the Greg Mortimer evolved rapidly as cases emerged. “No one really knew, things changed very quickly,” she said.

“I think my parents would say that hindsight is an incredible thing…obviously in retrospect they should never have left, and no one should have gotten on the ship,” Ms Leong said. 


“They were just at the mercy of a kind government and kind people who would actually look after them and see their plight.”

Ms Leong says her family has been welcomed back to Uruguay and is looking forward to visiting the country when travel restrictions are lifted. 

“For my dad and I, the message we want to get across is that in the horrors of all of these things basically, it was the humanity and connection that was ultimately the beautiful story…there will be more connections between Uruguay and Western Australia that’s for sure.” 

Aurora Expeditions, which operates the Greg Mortimer, also thanked Uruguay in a statement: “We cannot praise more highly the wonderful care that passengers, staff and crew received in Uruguay, both on board and in hospital. We all want to acknowledge and thank the Uruguayans for their enormous humanity.”

Uruguay has recorded 711 cases of Covid-19 and 19 people have died. 

On Wednesday the crew of the Australian-owned boat were finally allowed to disembark in Uruguay after spending more than a month in isolation.


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