We’ve all made jokes about running away to the South Pole or somewhere else far-flung to escape COVID. It’s too late now as cases have been reported in Antarctica.
The news means the pandemic has now reached every continent in the world.
New cases have been reported at the Bernardo O’Higgins base. It is a remote research station located in northernmost Antarctica, surrounded by ocean and icebergs. Earlier this week, health and army officials worked to remove and quarantine personnel.
The base is operated by Chile’s army. At least 36 people are reported to be infected, including 26 army personnel and 10 civilian contractors.
Reuters is reporting the cases ‘are already properly isolated and constantly monitored’ by health authorities in Magallanes, in Chilean Patagonia. There are no reports of complications so far.
The new cases will be a great disappointment to many. The stations put strong measures in place to try to prevent the pandemic from reaching them. Despite being the most remote on the planet, it still hasn’t been enough. Steps included cancelling tourism, scaling back on the number of staff and locking down the facilities.
Around 1,000 people at 38 stations across the continent had managed to go for months without any cases, according to British Antarctic Survey researchers.
How it happened
An Army press officer says the first coronavirus cases were reported in mid-December, with two soldiers falling ill.
BBC News reports that the cases come not long after Chile’s navy confirmed three cases on a ship which had transported supplies and personnel to the base.
Reports say the Sargento Aldea arrived at the base on November 27, before sailing back to Chile on December 10. Upon their return to the Chilean naval base in Talcahuano, three crew members tested positive for the virus. There were 208 crew members on board.
All of those who had embarked on the Antarctic trip had been given tests, with the results all coming back negative.
The Magallanes region is one of the closest populated areas to Antarctica. It is also the take-off point for many boats and planes headed to the continent. Much of it is blasted by cold winds from mountains and glaciers, and has been under quarantine restrictions for months.
The Bernardo O’Higgins research station is one of four permanent bases in the Antarctic and is operated by the Chilean army.
Chile is thought to be the sixth worst-affected country in Latin America. It currently has over 585,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Image via Alamy