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COVID-19 Finally Reaches Antarctica
Antactica, southern elephant seal
Frans Lemmens via Getty Images

COVID-19 has reached every continent on the globe with the infection of up to 36 people on a base in Antarctica, Chilean military officials announced Monday.

Twenty-six members of the Chilean army and 10 maintenance workers tested positive at Base General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme, a remote station staffed by Chileans on the northernmost part of the Antarctic Peninsula in West Antarctica, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

All those infected have been transported to Punta Arenas in southern Chile, where they are being quarantined and are reportedly in good condition, Newsweek reported. A Chilean health minister confirmed Tuesday that there were 21 infections involving people on the Chilean navy’s Sergeant Aldea, a vessel that supplies the base, according to The Associated Press.

“Thanks to the timely preventive action,” said the Chilean Army in a statement, according to 24 Horas. “It was possible to relieve said personnel, who, after being subjected to a medical control and the administration of a PCR test… turned out to be positive for COVID-19.”

The number of humans on the isolated continent ranges from 1,000 to 5,000 throughout the year, but it remains to be seen how COVID-19 could interact with its unique wildlife.

“The detection of cases of COVID-19 in Antarctica will impact upon a range of areas, from planning and logistics of human activity on the continent through to high-level decision-making back home,” said the University of Tasmania’s Hanne Nielsen, who is part of a research project examining the effects of COVID-19 on Antarctica.

“The presence of COVID-19 in Antarctica also has implications for local wildlife, with the threat of humans transmitting the virus to other species,” Nielsen added.


The several nations that have bases on Antarctica were afraid that COVID-19 might somehow find its way there, which is why some of them worked together to prevent it for as long as they could. As The Associated Press reported in September:

While COVID-19 has rattled some diplomatic ties, the 30 countries that make up the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs teamed up early to keep the virus out. Officials cited unique teamwork among the United States, China, Russia and others.

As a frightened world was locking down in March, the Antarctic programs agreed the pandemic could become a major disaster. With the world’s strongest winds and coldest temperatures, the continent roughly the size of the United States and Mexico is already dangerous for workers at 40 year-round bases.

“A highly infectious novel virus with significant mortality and morbidity in the extreme and austere environment of Antarctica with limited sophistication of medical care and public health responses is High Risk with potential catastrophic consequences,” according to a COMNAP document seen by The Associated Press.

COVID-19 has continued to skyrocket around the world, with more than 77.3 million cases and 1.7 million deaths reported as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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