First coronavirus outbreak reported in Antarctica

December 27, 2020
First coronavirus outbreak reported in Antarctica

The coronavirus has finally reached Antarctica, the last continent previously free from COVID-19. Chile’s armed forces have reported an outbreak among staff at a remote research station near the tip of a peninsula in northernmost Antarctica, including 26 army personnel and 10 civilian contractors conducting maintenance at the base.

Research and military stations in Antarctica are among the most remote in the world. These have taken extreme measures to keep the virus out; researchers with the British Antarctic Survey estimate about 1,000 people at 38 stations across the frozen continent had safely navigated the southern hemisphere winter without incident.

However, heightened travel to and from the region this spring and early summer have increased infection risk: a Chilean army press officer said the first COVID-19 cases had been reported in mid-December, when two soldiers fell ill.

Base personnel “are already properly isolated and constantly monitored” by health authorities in Magallanes, in Chilean Patagonia, the army said, adding there had so far been no complications.

The Magallanes region, one of the closest populated areas to Antarctica and take-off point for many boats and planes headed to the continent, is among the hardest-hit in Chile. Much of the area has been under quarantine restrictions for months, and is likely to remain so as health and army officials try to control further spread of the virus.

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