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Covid in Antarctica: Evacuations from a science base in Antarctica

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Cole Hanson
Cole Hanson
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Nine members of an Argentine scientific and military base in Antarctica were evacuated this weekend, official sources said Thursday, after an outbreak infected 24 of the base’s 43 occupants with the COVID-19 virus.

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The nine positive cases, who have not been vaccinated because they have been stationed at the Esperanza base since 2020, were evacuated by helicopter on Saturday in a delicate operation during a weather window of a few hours, and flown to Buenos Aires there. Isolated, although no one is sick.

“The situation is under control and the rest of the Argentine bases have not been affected by the Covid-19 virus,” National Director of Antarctica, Patricia Ortozar, told AFP.

Esperanza Base, a research station at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (northwest), is one of 13 Argentine bases on the continent, and one of six permanent. More than 200 scientists and soldiers stay at these bases in the winter, twice as many in the summer.

The focus on Esperanza came last week after a staff change. Ms Ortozar said one of the base members had a fever and headache, and antigen tests were done on all of them, yielding 24 positive results.

Edgar Calandin, Antarctic Commander, Edgar Calandin, explained to Tellam that only nine people who have been around since 2020 have not been vaccinated, because it was decided not to vaccinate in Antarctica, in case side effects occur immediately in a harsh environment. The nine were evacuated “as a precaution”, while the others remained positive, with no symptoms, immediately.

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Since the vaccination began at the end of 2020, individuals entering the bases have been vaccinated in advance. Nearly 300 scientists and soldiers, currently en route aboard the icebreaker, have also undergone preventive quarantine tests and quarantines since the end of December.

The cases at the Esperanza base are not the first appearance of COVID-19 in Antarctica: in December 2020, an outbreak of 36 cases was detected at the Chilean military base Bernardo O’Higgins.

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