Several cases of Covid-19 have been reported from a Chilean science base in Antarctica. The new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is therefore officially present on all continents of the Earth.
It is not known where or when the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus actually appeared. On the other hand, we know that its spread has been meteoric, so far affecting the whole planet…. except Antarctica. But it was only a matter of time before the white continent was also affected.
The first cases of Covid-19 have indeed just been reported at the O’Higgins research base in Chile, located near the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. A total of 36 people would be affected. Among them are more than two dozen members of the Chilean military, as well as ten civilian maintenance contractors, according to Newsweek.
These 36 people have since been evacuated to Punta Arenas, in southern Chile, where they have been placed in quarantine. Last I heard, all are doing well. In the meantime, a new team has been sent there. Naturally, the entire base had been disinfected upstream, and all members of this new group tested negative and then placed in quarantine before their arrival.
Risks that should not be underestimated
The chances of a larger outbreak on the continent appear to be fairly low, given the isolated nature of the research stations. However, let us not forget that while there are no permanent residents living there, Antarctica welcomes between 1,000 and 5,000 individuals (scientists and support staff) each year. The population generally peaks during the summer months, between October and February. That’s why it was important to curb this epidemic as soon as possible.
Speaking to Australia’s ABC, Hanne Nielsen of the University of Tasmania described the potential impacts of such a virus on the continent. She said an epidemic could affect all human activities, “from logistics to high-level decision-making” in countries of origin. She also recalls that hospitals and other health establishments are not within reach, which further increases the risks. Finally, she points out that the virus could affect local wildlife if the researchers came into contact with other local species.
Another potentially worrying point is that of tourism. Some tour operators are planning to open bookings for the 2021/2022 season. And for good reason, the next total solar eclipse, on December 4, 2021, will only be visible from Antarctica.