October 5, 2022

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Covit at the South Pole: Exodus from the Science Base in Antarctica

Nine members of Argentina’s scientific and military base in Antarctica were evacuated this weekend, and 24 of the site’s 43 residents have been infected with COVID-19 since the eruption, official sources said Thursday.

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Nine positive cases that have not been vaccinated since Pace has been suspended in Esperance since 2020 were evacuated Saturday by helicopter in a sophisticated operation during a few hours of weather window and transferred to Buenos Aires by air. No one is sick but isolated.

“The situation is under control and other Argentine sites are not affected by COVID-19,” Patricia Ordzar, national director of Antarctica, told AFP.

Pace Esperanza, located at the (northwestern) tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, is one of 13 Argentine bases on the continent and one of six permanent bases. More than 200 scientists and soldiers have been staying at these sites in the winter, more than twice as much in the summer.

The focus on Esperanza came after staff earnings last week. One of the base members suffered from fever and headache and all of them underwent antigen tests, giving 24 positive results, Ms Ordusar said.

Only nine people have not been vaccinated since 2020 because it was decided not to vaccinate in Antarctica, Edgar Caland, commander for Antarctica, explained to Thelam Company if there were side effects on the spot in the extreme environment. Nine were evacuated “as a precaution”, while the other, positive and asymptomatic, remained on the spot.

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Since the vaccine was launched in late 2020, it has already been vaccinated before staff entering the sites. The relief of about 300 scientists and soldiers, currently traveling on the icebreaker, has been undergoing testing and preventive isolation since the end of December.

The cases in Base Esperanza are not the first case of COVID-19 in Antarctica: in December 2020, 36 cases erupted at the Chilean military base Bernardo O’Hikins.