The coronavirus has landed in Antarctica, the last continent previously free from COVID-19. Health and army officials have scrambled to clear out and quarantine staff from a remote research station. Ocean and icebergs have surrounded it.
Chile’s armed forces said at least 36 people had been infected at its Bernardo O’Higgins base. It also includes 26 army personnel and 10 civilian contractors conducting maintenance at the base.
Chile’s army runs the permanently staffed research station. It lies near the tip of a peninsula in northernmost Antarctica, overlooking a bay often dotted with icebergs.
Health authorities said, the base personnel “are already properly isolated and constantly monitored.” The army said, there had so far been no complications.
Research and military stations in Antarctica had gone to extraordinary lengths in recent months to keep the virus out. It included canceling tourism, scaling back activities and staff, and locking down facilities.
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. But an uptick in travel to and from the region this spring and early summer have heightened infection risk.
Coronavirus in Antarctica
An Army press officer said two soldiers fell ill due to COVID-19 in mid-December.
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, blasted by cold winds off the ocean, mountains, and glaciers, has been under quarantine restrictions for months.
Chile’s Navy reported it too had detected three cases of COVID-19 among 208 crew members of a ship that had sailed in the Antarctic region between November 27 and December 10.
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