Antarctica can no longer lay claim to being the only continent free of coronavirus after 36 Chileans reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
Spanish-language media has reported up to 36 people connected with the Chilean Army base General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme tested positive for the virus on Monday.
The station, known colloquially as O’Higgins, is one of 13 active Chilean bases in Antarctica.
COVID-19 strikes Antarctica, its 7th continent, as Chilean base hit with virus https://t.co/NjQFjNymtq
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) December 22, 2020
It is located close to the northern-most tip of the Antarctic Peninsula in West Antarctica – far from Australia’s bases in East Antarctica – and was described by one travel website as “hard to reach even by Antarctic terms”.
Australia sent about 250 expeditioners to Davis, Mawson and Casey stations and Macquarie Island this season, about half the usual staff.
According to the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) website, only staff considered essential to keeping the stations operational and monitoring wildlife and climate travelled south.
Expeditioners isolated for two weeks in Hobart and were COVID-tested three times before travelling to Antarctica.
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research was already looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic had affected Antarctica.
The ABC has contacted the AAD, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, the World Health Organisation, the Chilean embassy and Antarctic research body Instituto Antártico Chileno for comment.