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Passenger from coronavirus-stricken cruise ship kisses Uruguayan soil in thanks before boarding flight home

Kiwi and Australian passengers of the Greg Mortimer cruise ship were overjoyed to finally board a flight home from Uruguay last night, NZT, with one man even kissing the ground in thanks to those who arranged it.

A group of 16 New Zealanders were aboard the ship, where more than half of the 217 passengers aboard had tested positive to Covid-19.

The Greg Mortimer has been moored near Montevideo since March 21, and was supposed to undertake an Antarctic voyage before the pandemic took off.

The Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer Source: Associated Press

New Zealand, Australia and Uruguay's ministries of foreign affairs have worked together since to arrange a flight home for the Kiwi and Australian citizens.

In video posted on Twitter by Uruguay's Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Talvi, a man dressed in full personal protective equipment gets off a bus to get on the plane home, but stops to acknowledge those who helped get him there by kneeling down and kissing the Uruguayan soil.

"He knelt down, kissed our land and left," Mr Talvi wrote.

"Now yes, everyone onboard the plane, to our dear Australian and New Zealand friends we say: very good trip and see you soon."

The flight has since landed in Melbourne, and 13 of the 16 Kiwis will continue on to New Zealand where they will be quarantined - the other three are Australian residents and will remain there.

In a statement last night, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said "these New Zealanders were in a position of real risk, where they were unable to shelter safely on the ship and were not in a position to return home via commercial means.

"Their imminent return to New Zealand is a seriously welcome result.

"We are deeply appreciative of the assistance we have received from Aurora Expeditions, and the Governments of Uruguay and Australia, in making this repatriation flight possible."