- Antarctica has reportedly recorded first case of coronavirus after 36 Chileans fell ill at the research base
- The research station is situated near the tip of a peninsula in northernmost Antarctica
- No other country with a presence in Antarctica has reported any other cases publicly so far
Chile’s military said this week that the coronavirus had arrived in Antarctica, the last continent previously free of COVID-19, as health and army officials rushed to clear and quarantine staff from a remote research station surrounded by oceans and icebergs.
The Chilean armed forces announced that at least 36 people at its Bernardo O’Higgins base had been contaminated, including 26 military personnel and 10 civilian maintenance contractors at the base.
Near the tip of a peninsula in northernmost Antarctica, overlooking a bay frequently dotted with icebergs, lies the permanently staffed research station, run by the Chilean army.
Base personnel “are already properly isolated and constantly monitored” by health authorities in Magallanes, Chilean Patagonia, the military said, adding that no problems have occurred so far.
In recent months, research and military stations in the Antarctic, one of the most isolated in the world, have gone to incredible lengths to keep the virus out, cancel tourism, scaling back activities and staff, and lock down facilities.
Approximately 1,000 people at 38 stations around the frozen continent have successfully navigated the southern hemisphere winter without incident, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey estimate. But a spike in travel to and from the area has increased the risk of infection this spring and early summer.
The first COVID-19 cases were identified in mid-December, when two soldiers fell ill, an Army press officer said.
One of the most hard-hit regions in Chile is the Magallanes region, one of the closest inhabited areas to the Antarctic and a point of departure for many boats and planes headed to the continent.
For months, much of the region, blasted by cold winds off the coast, mountains and glaciers, has been subject to quarantine restrictions.
The Chilean Navy also announced that it had found three cases of COVID-19 among the 208 crew members of a ship that sailed between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10 in the Antarctic region.