Relief and anger as Australian cruise ship passengers stranded in Italy prepare for flight home | World news

More than 200 Australian cruise ship passengers stranded in Italy have been told they will be flown to Perth on Sunday evening, but those who test positive to Covid-19 will not be allowed on the plane.

Those on the Costa Victoria and Costa Luminosa were told to pack their bags after the cruise operator organised a chartered flight from Rome.

Costa Victoria passengers received a call in the middle of the night telling them to be ready to go by 6am local time.

The Australian embassy was advised that the flight would depart about 2.30pm local time (11.30pm Sunday AEDT).

But an email from the office of the foreign minister, Marise Payne, to a cruise ship passenger’s family member said the situation was still changing rapidly and “plans may change without notice”.

The Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, confirmed at a press conference the flight would land in Perth.

“A Qatar aircraft will be landing tomorrow afternoon with about 270 Australians on board, including 120 West Australians,” he said.

“No passengers with Covid or Covid-like symptoms have been allowed to board the plane as it leaves Europe.”

All emails sent to passengers have stipulated that only those who pass a health check will be allowed on the flight. But no information was given as to what would happen to those who failed it.

More than 200 Australians have been isolated in their cabins on Costa Victoria for six days after it was confirmed a passenger had contracted Covid-19. It docked in the port of Civitavecchia, north of Rome.

Passengers feared they would face the same fate as those on the Costa Luminosa; taken off the ship and bussed to Rome, where they would have to spend two weeks in isolation. But after just five days the 39 Australians from the Luminosa were told they would now be allowed on the flight.

Buses parked at the Civitavecchia port ready to transport Australian Costa Victoria passengers to Rome

Buses parked at the Civitavecchia port in preparation to take Australian Costa Victoria passengers to Rome. Photograph: Supplied by Terry Daly

Passengers from both ships expressed their relief, but also anger at the situation they found themselves in.

“I said, ‘Oh thank God’… not that I’m religious at all. Hallelujah,” said Maureen Rahman, a Coffs Harbour woman on board the Costa Victoria. “It’s a big relief, as we all know Italy is corona central.”

Belle Watson’s father has been struggling to manage his diabetes in a Rome hotel room after being taken off the Costa Luminosa, though he was reluctant to go to a local hospital for fear that he would contract the virus.

“When I called to tell him [he was being evacuated], he had a bit of a tear in his eye,” Watson said.

“He said he is going to be able to stretch his arms and his legs … it’s all been a bit of a rollercoaster for him.”

Ivan Maronian, who was on the Costa Luminosa, said he and others were furious with the cruise company and the department of foreign affairs, and were planning legal action.

“It’s so good, we cannot believe it,” Maronian said. “But I tell you what, these bastards are going to pay dearly when we get home.”

His wife, Margaret, said she was still worried plans could change. “I won’t believe it till we get on the plane.”

At least two Australians who contracted Covid-19 have already been transported from the Costa Luminosa to hospitals in Savona, where one woman is in a serious condition.

A number of non-Australian passengers have died, some in Italian intensive care units.

McGowan said those who returned would be required to undertake another 14-day quarantine.

“Our plan is for the West Australians to go to Rottnest. Other Australians will go to hotels. They will be quarantined and separated in accordance with the current restrictions.”

Ivan Maronian said that prospect did not concern him. “I don’t mind if we get isolated, as long as we are on Australian soil,” he said. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Passengers and family members have been pleading for help from the Australian government for days.

Last week Payne admitted the government might not be able to get all Australians trapped overseas home, “given the unprecedented scale of the global interruption to travel”.

“It may be necessary for some Australians to stay where they are overseas, and as far as practicable remain safe and comfortable,” she said in a statement.

She urged all Australians to make their way home by commercial means where possible. The repatriation flight for the Australian Costa passengers was organised by the company.