COVID finds its way to Antarctica outpost, two-thirds of staff test positive: ‘Do they need to iceolate?’

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Even extreme social distancing, icy cold, and vaccinations did not stop COVID-19 from infecting two-thirds of staff at a research outpost in Antarctica, according to a report.

The BBC noted that since Dec. 14, 16 of the 25 Belgian scientific research staff at the Princess Elizabeth Polar Station have come down with the virus, though officials there say that the cases are mild thus far.

It’s not clear from the report which strain the researchers contracted.

“The situation isn’t dramatic,” said Joseph Cheek, a project manager for the International Polar Foundation, according to the outlet.

“While it has been an inconvenience to have to quarantine certain members of the staff who caught the virus, it hasn’t significantly affected our work at the station overall,” Cheek noted.

“All residents of the station were offered the opportunity to leave on a scheduled flight on 12 January. However, they all expressed their wish to stay and continue their work,” he said.

The first recorded case on Dec. 14 came seven days after a new research team arrived at the scientific outpost, the outlet reported.

All of those who tested positive were placed in isolation, according to officials, but the virus continued to spread nonetheless.

Anyone who travels to the station must be fully vaccinated, but they are also tested for the virus nonetheless. Two emergency physicians are stationed at the outpost, which is operated by the International Polar Foundation and went into service in 2009.

Officials have barred new arrivals to the research facility until the virus has completely run its course, the BBC reported.

The outlet also noted that the COVID infections at the station aren’t the first for an Antarctica research facility since the pandemic began. Last year, for instance, several Chilean military personnel stationed at the Bernardo O’Higgins research facility became infected after sailors aboard a supply vessel tested positive for COVID.

In a December 2020 report, the BBC noted that 36 Chilean personnel — 26 of whom were members of the country’s military — caught the virus and were subsequently evacuated to their country.

Several people reacted to the latest report of the virus reaching the remote outpost on social media, most noting that viruses do what they do — they spread — while others offered some humorous takes.


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