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Antarctica no longer Covid-19 free, as infection reaches frozen continent for the first time

Antarctica no longer Covid-19 free, as infection reaches frozen continent for the first time
The coronavirus has now affected all seven continents, as 36 infections were reported among people stationed at Chile’s General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme research base in Antarctica.

After testing positive, the 36 individuals were taken to Chile’s Punta Arenas where they are believed to be in good, stable condition. However, they will remain under constant isolation while they recover.

The Chilean Army has thanked the timely preventive action, as “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.”

It is not clear when Chilean officials first became aware of the outbreak, but it’s been suggested that they could have been informed over a week ago.

Chile has replaced the team at the base with a completely new crew that was required to self-isolate for two weeks and produce a negative Covid-19 test before they travelled to the area.

There are 70 permanent research stations in Antarctica, manned by 29 countries. In order, to minimize the risk of the virus spreading to the continent, research projects were temporarily halted and researchers have remained at their bases, rather than travelling back to their home countries, during the pandemic. 

Currently, there is no concern that the virus has spread to other bases in Antarctica, as the affected research station is located at the northern-most point of the Antarctic Peninsula, which is viewed as hard to reach even by Antarctic terms.

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Even though the virus appears to have been contained, the University of Tasmania’s Hanne Nielsen has warned that “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.”

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