A Hunter Valley couple are waiting for the results of their coronavirus tests, as they remain confined to their cabin on a cruise ship, with more than 120 COVID-19 cases on board, off the coast of Uruguay in South America.
Graham and Sue Murphy, from Largs, are among about 90 Australian passengers on board the Greg Mortimer, a small cruise ship that was on an expedition from Argentina to Antarctica.
Graham Murphy communicated via a series of text messages. He wrote that a Uruguayan medical team had been testing everyone on the ship.
Aurora Expeditions, the company operating the cruise, told passengers on Monday, local time, that 128 passengers and crew had tested positive for COVID-19. Eighty-nine had tested negative, with another six results pending.
The Murphys still hadn't found out their results by late Monday. They expect to be given their results on Tuesday (Uruguay is 13 hours behind Newcastle).
"As of today, we still don't know if we are affected," Mr Murphy wrote. "This is scary stuff. A number of passengers and crew have been taken off the ship with C19-related illness."
Aurora Expeditions said six people had been taken ashore and were "stable". Two hundred and seventeen remain on board the Greg Mortimer. The tour operator said there were presently no cases of fever on the ship.
"This insidious virus doesn't know masks or closed doors," Mr Murphy wrote.
"You never know when you will be the next victim. It lives with us every day."
The Murphys, who founded cleaning and property maintenance company Gabes and built it up over three decades before retiring, have been stuck on the Greg Mortimer since mid-March. They had been on a 21-day cruise.
"We left Ushuaia [in Argentina] three days before the government-implemented 'Do not travel' policy," Mr Murphy wrote. "We were in Antarctica when this was told to us. We had four magnificent days on the ice before the trip was cancelled, and we were told we had to report back to shore.
"Ushuaia ... closed their borders so we couldn't go back. We headed for the Falklands [Islands], which was two days sailing away. On our way we were told that we were not allowed to stop there, and so we continued onto Montevideo, Uruguay.
"We were told they left their borders open to help cruise passengers get home. This was an incredibly generous offer, as they would allow contaminated people into their country."
At the time of the text exchanges, Graham and Sue Murphy had been in "isolation" for 16 days.
"Isolation means you have no physical contact with any other person aboard the ship, you cannot leave your 8x4 [metre] cabin," Mr Murphy explained. "Thankfully we have a small 4x1m veranda. We are fortunate to have fresh air and sit in the warm sun - when it shines.
"We have three meals delivered to our room daily. The meals are good... We get tea and coffee in the morning and afternoon tea time.
"We are both in good spirits and health. We try to exercise as much as we can. One hundred and fifty laps of the room equal 1.2 kilometres."
The Murphys have been waiting to hear when, and how, they can return home.
The company has chartered an aircraft that is being refitted as a "medical plane". The plan is for all Australian passengers to be on the same plane, which is likely to land in Melbourne.
"The operator is used to dealing with medical situations and although we are still in the planning stage, it is likely we will separate the positive and negative passengers on the flight home into different cabin areas," Aurora Expeditions' spokesman said in a statement.
While costs were still being determined, the flight to Australia equated to about $15,000 for each passenger.
"We have asked the Australian government for support with this cost as we know that it is not viable for many people and we are working on a solution," the company said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was working with Aurora Expeditions "to support the company to make arrangements to return Australian passengers".
In Maitland, the Murphys' son, Brad, has been staying in touch with his parents.
"It would be nice to have them back, and safe," Brad Murphy said.
Graham Murphy had visited Antarctica twice before, sailing there in a yacht. While those voyages posed perils, Mr Murphy said, it was different to what he faced now.
"We can't see this," Mr Murphy wrote. "We don't know where it is."
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