Remote and sparsely populated, Antarctica was the one continent on Earth untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. The continent’s human population resides in research stations, and one of them has now unfortunately confirmed multiple cases of the virus.
According to the Chilean news source 24 horas, the Chilean army tested 60 people returning to Punta Arenas from their General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme base, of which 36 tested positive. Army personnel made up 26 of the cases, and the remaining 10 were contractors carrying out maintenance work. The individuals with the virus are reportedly isolating in "sanitary residences" in Punta Arenas. Speaking to ABC News, Strategic Studies lecturer Dr Elizabeth Buchanan from Deakin University said "The military footprint here has both introduced COVID-19 to Antarctica but also allowed for the rapid evacuation of infected expeditioners."
The base – located on the most northern point of the Antarctic Peninsula – is the capital of the Chilean Antarctic commune Antártica. It is also referred to as Puerto Covadonga and was established in 1948. The base can accommodate up to 60 people, however, the population usually varies between 16 in the winter and 44 in the summer.
In a comment to ABC News, Hanne Nielsen from the University of Tasmania said "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." She also explained that "The presence of COVID-19 in Antarctica also has implications for local wildlife, with the threat of humans transmitting the virus to other species."
[H/T 24 horas, ABC News]