Covid-19: No changes for Antarctica New Zealand after cases at Chilean base

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Antarctica New Zealand says it is not changing its Covid-19 response at this stage, despite an outbreak at a Chilean research station.

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Photo: Supplied / Antarctica NZ

Spanish-language media has reported up to 36 people connected with the Chilean Army base, General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme, known as O’Higgins Base, tested positive for the virus on Monday.

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Sarah Williamson said people heading to Scott Base already had two weeks’ isolation before travel, and had limited contact with other bases once there.

“We have some really good and comprehensive pieces in place this year to make sure we keep Covid out of the Ross Sea region as best we can. I don’t think it’ll make any changes to what we do but we are constantly reassessing to make sure we have what we need in place to keep Covid away from Antarctica if we can. “

Williamson said there was no contact between Scott Base and the Chilean base, which was about 4000km away.

She said there was often a bit of contact between Scott Base and its neighbour, the US McMurdo Station, but this season they had been much more cautious with the level of contact depending on who was at the base and how recently they arrived.

The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) said it had received information on 18 December from Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) manager saying they had been informed of the positive Covid cases.

Those people would have disembarked in the ports of Punta Arenas and Talcahuano from the vessel Sargento Aldea from the Chilean Navy, INACH said.

“For this reason, the Chilean Antarctic Program has decided to monitor the health status of those at its stations and perform PCR tests for Covid-19, in coordination with Chile’s Health Authorities.”

COMNAP said it was yet to receive further formal information, but remained in close contact with INACH.

It said its guidance for national Antarctic programs was last reviewed on 9 November by its Covid-19 subcommittee, and it continued to have confidence in those guidelines.

“Given the global situation, the document foresaw the possibility of an outbreak in Antarctica and includes provision for prevention of the intracontinental spread of SARS-CoV-2 should the virus present in personnel stationed in Antarctica, protocols for prevention of spread within a station and guidance in regards to response in case of Covid-19 outbreak in Antarctica.”

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